When I was a small child, my mother, greatly urged, I’m sure, by my father’s mother, made quite sure that I had manners. Sure, my four-year-old brain may have interpreted “Only speak when spoken to” a bit too literally, perhaps, as I was a very quiet child.
My dad’s side of the family is notorious for being hot-headed and temperamental. When it became clear that I had, at least to some degree, inherited his temper, I was immediately taught not to swear. This was drilled into my head such that, at the tender age of eight, after my six year old sister caused me to lose my last life playing Super Mario Bros., I threw down the controller, turned to her, screamed, “BASTARD!” …. and then immediately ran for my life.
I hid in the dark between my bed and the wall while my mom kept saying things like, “I don’t know what happened to my sweet little girl.”
By the age of nine, I was answering the phone saying, “Hello, _________ residence. Renee speaking. How may I help you?”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — The Golden Rule — was enforced at Sunday School (dad’s church), as well as CCD classes (mom’s church). Yes, adding to my education in manners was a double-dose of weekly religious education.
“Always offer to help your friends’ mothers if you’re staying for dinner.”
“Always shut the water off while you’re soaping up your hair if you’re showering at someone else’s house.”
“Always remember to thank your host.”
And always, always, always, ALWAYS remember to say “please” and “thank you.”
These were just some of the lessons in manners that I got, and I’m sure you can probably relate.
Obviously I didn’t grow up to be a perfect person. All of my yearbooks are signed with messages like, “You’re the sweetest. Don’t ever change.” To some extent, I’m still that girl who will do anything to help a friend. I’ve grown tired of being taken for granted, but for the right people, I’ll always be there. Even if you hate me. Even if I don’t think you’re so great right now, either.
But we all change at some point, whether we want to or not.
I’ve been accused of not accepting change very well, and I suppose that’s often true. When I’m happy, I want to stay happy. I don’t like not knowing and would much rather have some semblance of a plan.
And as I am clearly not a perfect person, neither are my manners.
Sometimes, just like you, I’m really mean. I make mistakes. I do things I tell myself I shouldn’t do and I wish I could take back things that are already out there.
Still, I’m continually astounded by how downright rude people are today. No matter what, if I ask someone for something, I say “please.” I try to remember to tell people how much I appreciate it when they’ve helped me out in any way or even when they’ve just done something really nice for me. I say “thank you.”
It seems, at least to me, that manners are a dying practice. I don’t know about you, but when I make the effort to be polite, it actually offends me a little bit when someone sends me something and says “Do this for me.” I can even overlook the absence of “please” sometimes if “thank you” makes an appearance afterwards, but that is less and less frequently the case, too.
This is your fault, Barney. You sang songs about the magic words and you creeped people out and now… manners are dead.
Spend a little while observing things around you. I’m interested to know what you see. What I notice is that there’s a profound lack of people showing patience, understanding, and empathy, practicing good manners, exercising forgiveness, and being generally polite and pleasant. I include myself in that.
What I see more often is people letting their egos inflate, over-inflate, and take over; people building walls out of an excess of pride and self-importance; people who refuse to forgive; people who will completely ignore you when you try to talk to them or when you attempt to communicate with them in other ways. People who always have to be right.
And, perhaps most disturbingly, people who are insistent upon dominating others just to prove they always have the upper hand. Even God couldn’t win with these people. They don’t just make it difficult. They make it impossible. Dominate and conquer. I am always right and you are always wrong.
We’d all do better to spend nearly as much time and effort remembering to say things like “please,” “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “you’re forgiven” as we do trying to dominate others while our egos explode.
I get it. This sounds self-righteous. That’s not my intent. I mess up just as much as anyone. I could give you the name of someone who would tell you what a colossal failure I am at living. But it really bothers me when I help someone who never thanks me. Or when I spend money I don’t have to send someone a gift and my thank you comes in text message form only after I’ve asked if the gift ever arrived. Or when I go through hell to get to a wedding and never receive a thank you card. When I constantly keep my eyes open for things that will help my friends and they seem unappreciative. For some reason, I keep trying with these people. Most sane people don’t.
Does that sound nitpicky? Maybe. I try not to hold people to outrageously high standards. I fail at that, too. I’m willing to compromise on a lot of things, but not manners. Am I counting every time you say the magic words? No. But I promise that if you aren’t saying them more often than you are saying them, I’m going to notice.
And I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Because when you can’t be polite to people, admit that you’re wrong, or say you’re sorry, and when you can’t be bothered to acknowledge someone trying to communicate with you, and when you can’t do something as simple as signing your name on a thank-you card or just saying the words “thank you”…. Well. How important do you think you are that you’re above any or all of that?