In high school, I spent a summer traveling in a retired school bus through the pacific northwest, working with a group of teenagers to encourage churches from one state to the next. Whatever they needed, we did, whether it was painting a youth room, or doing balloon art at a park for neighborhood kids. But before the trip started, we spent a week preparing. A big part of our preparation was taking time to learn about hospitality and manners. The following year when I graduated from high school, one of my gifts from my parents was a giant volume – Emily Post’s exhaustive reference on manners. Flash forward to the time we moved in, with our three little children and one-on-the-way, to a townhouse sharing a wall with an etiquette teacher, who traveled the country teaching manners to students and professionals, and this young mama quivered with nerves that my little people might misstep and offend. (What? Don’t all moms worry about what others think? And by the way, my neighbor turned out to be our kids’ biggest advocate.)
But what’s the point of all these little incidents? Are manners really that important? Recently, I chatted via Facebook Live about manners, and got some great input from others about what they think!
In a modern society, do manners matter?
I say, “YES!” In a nation divided by strife, one of the root causes is a basic lack of respect (honor) for human life. I believe the violent acts we see tragically committed toward others have the same beginning-point as rudeness – a beginning-point that says “I’m more important than you.” By contrast, a young mom recently shared on my Facebook page, “Etiquette is making yourself slightly less comfortable to make someone else slightly more comfortable.”
There’s a reason society is obsessed with the good manners of elegant figures like Princess Kate Middleton. She embodies a fairy-tale idea of grace and elegance, and a flash-back to a past era, for most of us, of court etiquette and elegance, of poise and tradition.
Paul J. Zak, in his book The Moral Molecule, says “my colleagues and I have found that when someone is nice towards another person, the recipient’s brain releases oxytocin and this causes him or her to respond with kindness. Oxytocin is the embodiment of the Golden Rule.”
Side note: I remember as a young mom, I learned that when I nursed my babies, my body released oxytocin, the “feel good hormone.” Is it possible that the idea of being nice to someone is related to nurturing, to caring for them, to providing for them? That when we literally welcome someone with kindness, we’re nurturing them and helping us both feel good in life?
RB Bronson, in an article for the Huffington Post, noted, “Good manners are like art: They exalt humanity for no good reason, other than they assume the basic value of all people. In a society that has pretty much trashed most of the rules, where violence is commonplace and selfishness is applauded, good manners swim against the stream. Good manners take time, they slow us down, they force us to think about others, and how we’d like to be treated ourselves.” So showing good manners has intrinsic value, because it elevates people: and people matter.
But if manners do matter, which ones are important? Should we revert to high-society rules and regulation, or the infinite rules and regulations of times past, dividing classes of people? Or just forget trying, because not everyone accepts the same standards?
I say of all times, having basic ways of treating people are important today.
If you need something in it for you, think of this: good manners don’t just show others they’re important; they help us present a better view of ourselves to others, as well. Good manners foster respect from others. Natalie of More Mom Movement said, “Granny… always told me to ‘put lipstick on so your smile is more noticeable!'” Whether it’s lipstick or a clean outfit, a polite greeting or a strong handshake, presenting yourself to others leaves a strong impression that can benefit greatly in relationships, whether you’re negotiating for a raise or trying to get a refund on a defective purchase. Even young children can benefit from this idea. Mom-of-littles Renee shared, “I have found that kids who address adults politely get way more leeway with their behavior. It’s silly, but if my kids are polite when they speak to adults, but then run amok later, I find others are more likely to attribute their behavior to regular kid energy, rather than defiant attitudes.”
Here are a few principles I think we all can use to help us discern what manners really do matter.
Put others first.
Romans 12:10 in the Bible says “…take delight in honoring each other.” It can be as simple as letting the person behind you in line go first, or holding the door for someone coming behind you. But slowing down for a moment and allowing someone else to “go first” is a powerful way to give honor to another person, by showing you’re willing to give up your valuable time or a small bit of effort.
The Power of Please (and Thank You!)
We learned this, most of us, as little toddlers. “Say please!” our parents told us when we wanted something. Even as adults, the words “please” and “thank you” take such little effort, but speak volumes about the importance of another person. One of my biggest frustrations is when people don’t say “thank you” when someone takes the time to hold a door, or to wait for them to cross the street. It’s such a little thing – but it matters in a big way.
Change Your FACE.
One of my children heard this semi-teasing phrase many times during a season of his life. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, he often wore a scowl that
was a pain to behold wasn’t pleasant for those around who interacted with him. We worked hard to encourage him that wearing a smile, or at least a neutral expression, goes a long way toward building mutual respect and an encouraging atmosphere. Even if you live in a more reserved culture, taking time for a smile can build bridges in small ways that tell others they matter.
Name Calling IS a good thing (sometimes).
When possible, call others by their name. My dad models this for me even today; he looks for a name-tag when speaking with someone in service, and when he meets someone, he asks for, and repeats, the person’s name. It always seemed to me that this small effort showed value for the other person. As a parent, I also want to advocate that when children address adults, it’s wise to use titles. While I know many people like the idea of first names, I believe using titles gives a level of respect and separateness that’s good for children and for the adults with whom they interact. I loved “Seven Reasons I Prefer Being a Mrs. Mom,” and how one writer views this tradition. As my oldest children transition to adulthood, they’re also transitioning to first-name-basis with adults in their lives, and it is a rite of passage that has powerful implications for them, just as calling adults by their titles gave them a sense of respect and safety as children.
Be all ears.
This is a personal struggle for me – I admit it. I have thoughts tumbling in my head all the time, and often in conversation, I find myself composing my thoughts and impatiently waiting to share them while another person is talking. But when I take the time to ask engaging questions, and even better, to really listen for the answers, I connect to the heart of a person, and I come away with opportunities to encourage them. Polite conversation involves listening, and listening shows someone they have an audience, and having an audience communicates importance.
Look me in the eyes!
Sarah, a college student, shared this: “A huge thing manner-wise for me from college this past year and while working & dealing with guests (in hospitality), is eye contact. I think eye contact is important in every interaction- it shows that you are acknowledging the humanness of another person, whether it’s while you’re briefly walking by someone on the sidewalk or when engaging in conversation with another person. It’s like the first way we can communicate respect to others, without even opening our mouths.”
Robert Heinlein in Friday, said, “A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot…” When someone speaks rudely, respond in kindness, or at least hold strong to a civil response. In one particularly difficult (necessary) acquaintance, I find that some conversations take all my self-control to keep a steady tone and not get “snappy” in my responses. But I am also finding that the more I do that, the more smoothly difficult moments pass, and hopefully, the more opportunities I’ll have for a sweeter interaction down the road. (Oh, it’s not comfy when I give advice that I need to take more often…)
Are you a mom who would like ideas for some “don’t miss” manners to teach your kiddos? Sign up here to receive access to all my free downloads, including a printable wall hanging of reminders for “Manners Matters!”
Not a parent, but looking for a few “basics” to encourage you in everyday interactions? There are plenty of fun printables for you, too!
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is short, but there is always time enough for courtesy.” What manners matters are vital to you?
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