I walked into Home Depot today. There was a family in the store…they were all over the store. One kid was running down that aisle, another running down another. One child had a toilet plunger and was chasing his sister with it. Their parents, who, in all Christian love were complete idiots, just laughed and thought their children were cute…even when they ran into an elderly gentleman and knocked him down. The father approached the man on the floor chuckling…” heh heh heh…kid’s’ll be kids!” I would have applauded if the elderly man had said to the idiot father, “Lawsuits will be lawsuits!”
One of the children, the same one who ran down the old man came running right at me, and I shouted, “Stop!” The child looked at me with wide eyes. I said, “This is NOT a place where you run! I pointed at people walking by and said, “This is NOT a playground, stop running right now!” His parents stood off a short distance from me and when their child walked over sulking to them, the father said, “I’ll get you a milkshake on the way home to make you feel better!” My backside would have been as rare as roast beef if I had to be corrected by another adult. This parent just felt bad for the kid. I looked long and hard at the parents as they disappeared down an aisle. There was no more running. I’m the reason they say old people are cranky…
I began to think of the differences of growing up in the sixties and seventies and the current generation growing up in this new millennium plus 19. For one thing, (I’m going to sound like my parents here, so, watch out…”) If I had even left my parents side when I was in public…ESPECIALLY in a store where people were shopping, I would have been ordered to wait in the car and then sent to my room when I got home. My folks didn’t have any time for me inconveniencing other people. My mother used to tell me to “Go and open that door for that woman!”
My dad used to tell me, “stand up when your mother and sister come to the table…don’t you EVER stay seated when a woman comes into a room!” Usually, his Latin backhand would wave perilously close to my head when he was making his “suggestions” about public manners. I stand for women if I am seated in a room to this day. Women are the more civilized of our species…the ones who make society bearable…lovely.
That is just it, our parents taught us “manners”. “Yes Sir” “No Ma’am” “Please would you pass the butter?” “Thank you for your kind gift”. (then we wrote thank you cards to mail to anyone who gave us a gift.) My parents would impress upon us that our “elbows were never to rest on the dinner table, and that napkins sat in your lap. “If you wipe your mouth with your hand, get up, go to the bathroom, wash your hands and come back to the table!”
Now, when it came to how we treated our siblings…well, all bets were off! If I had placed my napkin on my lap when it was just my brothers Greg and Geoff in the room they would have hit me in the mouth. In public, we were gentlemen, in private, we were practically Neanderthals. But the die was cast…and it stuck like glue in our psyches that MANNERS WERE FOR OTHERS…
Manners were in a sense, a display of social generosity we bestowed on others so society would flow graciously. Manners were the lubrication that made the society to operate without friction. We preferred others, we closed our mouths when we chewed, girls crossed their ankles when they sat, young boys had combed hair and tried to keep clean until afternoon recess.
Manners weren’t for window dressing either. Sure, they were representative of who you were as a family, but they had a WEIGHT to them…they gave you a particular stature in your community. You could tell that the Harper family stressed homework and honesty by the way their boys acted in public. You would see that the Anderson family stressed courtesy when Billy would say, “yes ma’am Mrs. Green”, when answering a question and, not just one question, but EVERY question. “No ma’am Mrs. Fisher, I wasn’t talking Ma’am. “Thank you so very much, Father Minta, I’ll be sure to tell my father, sir!”
I would be impressed. In fact, I wasn’t only impressed, I imitated them. I liked how they behaved! They had that thing called…what’s the word? Class! Their example made me want to be better too. It’s why; as I grew older, I had the fear of God when it came to talking back to a teacher. Back in those days, parents backed up teachers. You knew when you got home something far worse awaited you than what you got at school.
I’ll write another blog about the extremes of the 1960’s disciplinarian approach to raising children, but I have to say, the negatives I can count on one hand, the positives I own forever in my character.
Manners are a social contract we write with one another, and their dearth is the breaking of those very bonds that once held us together with gossamer threads…almost invisible yet meaningful and powerful in the way they demonstrated respect for one another.
Manners are the best way to honor a stranger…opening the door, preferring another person over yourself. Manners and courtesy gave their owners a standing or, to use the word again, stature, that others recognized as the prerequisite to greatness because they demonstrated who a person WAS, not just what he did to impress others.
Manners were never meant to become perfunctory displays of “how good we
were”. On the contrary, manners were the method by which we bowed our
heads in deferment to another person and said without words, “You are
more important than I”.
When a man opened a door for a woman properly, it was a demonstration of his respect for her. When a boy carried a girl’s books for her, it was a demonstration of his desire to honor her.
When we dressed well before we went into public places, it was our announcement that others were important enough for us to look our best. Even though the wine ordered at dinner was corked and a sample poured into the man’s glass, it was the custom; after his approval, that the woman got the first pouring…the wife of the guest at the table was served first, then the wife of the host and then others at the table.
Oh how I long for gentility and kindness again. It is not lost my friends. It is waiting for us to awaken it from its sleep. It is time to strengthen the muscles that have atrophied from lack of use. There is going to be a renaissance of courtesy and manners like we have never seen before. There is coming a time again when we will look others in the eye when they speak to us, when we will have respect for other people’s property and when throwing trash on the ground will be considered not only ill-mannered but legally enforced again. There will come a time when profanity in public will be fined and only those considered fools will do it.
There is going to return the practice of mentoring younger generations and will be something they would be willing to pay for because of the elevated spirit that manners and righteous courtesy bring to the atmosphere. There will be a hunger for adulthood again. I don’t recommend you discipline all the wild children in public. But I do think that as we grow in stature, that authority naturally issues from our lives. These will be our city mothers and fathers.
I do encourage you to raise the level of your game to excellence. Make it your goal that when you leave a room those who remain, will feel honored that you have been there.