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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Gentle Reminder

I so seldom hear "please", "thank you", "you're welcome" or "excuse me" any more and it drives me crazy! No one is born polite. Good manners are a learned trait and they are learned at home; around the dinner table, at family functions, in play groups and out in the public, before they even step foot in a school. Lead by example is my motto.

A recent article that I read in San Diego Magazine really hits the nail on the head and I believe everyone could use this gentle reminder.

What Happened to Our Manners?

Kanye, Serena, Perez, Joe Wilson and our country's recent boorish behavior
By Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.

President John F. Kennedy said, “So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness and sincerity is always subject to proof.” I have to wonder if he has been watching the behavior of three key public figures over the last week.

Celebrity trash blogger Perez Hilton, rapper Kanye West, tennis pro Serena Williams and South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson all put civility on the media map in America, each in his or her own way. Or should I say, put the lack of civility on the media map.

Bullying, name calling, threatening behavior—we don’t accept these actions in schools and it’s hard enough for parents who are paying attention to teach their children how to behave properly. But when adults, famous adults—role models—act out on the world stage, it becomes even more difficult for parents to do their job.

What is going on with our seemingly increasing inability to have a conversation with each other without screaming, vilifying, threatening and boycotting?

Apologies or no apologies, explanations and rationalizations aside, it’s just plain wrong, and many are commenting on it. If you’ve followed Facebook or Twitter as I have, you can’t help but be impressed by how many have simply expressed that they are fed up with this type of boorish, divisive, immature and out-of-control behavior. You don’t humiliate a beauty pageant contestant and call her a “dumb b*tch.”

You just don’t publicly call the President of the United States a “liar” while in a joint session of Congress. You just don’t steal someone’s shining moment at an awards ceremony and say that someone else’s achievement was better. And you don’t threaten a judge at a sporting event with profanity.

Was Samuel Johnson correct when he posited, “When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency”?

I don’t believe so and Lizzy Post, great-granddaughter of Emily Post and a senior member of the Emily Post Institute, also doesn’t think he was right. “I don’t think society is coming off the rails,” she was recently quoted as saying.

There has always been rude behavior in our midst, but it seems to me that the media’s sudden concern, the hand wringing, is what’s new. When President Bush was booed loudly by the audience at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, or when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Bush a “liar” and a “loser,” we didn’t see discussion of the demise of manners in America.

Perhaps a recent Wichita Falls Times Record News headline says it best: “If civility isn’t dead, it’s definitely on a respirator.”

I’m concerned about health care reform. But I believe we need to be equally, if not more, concerned about healing. Do we need a day of healing in America? A chance to stop, reflect on the divisiveness, the rudeness, the lack of respect we hold for each other?

When children get off course in their road to civility, parents need to redirect them to be more kind, considerate and caring of all children. We need to do the same thing for ourselves as adults. Specific civility concepts that parents can teach children are:

• Teaching children about multicultural tolerance and acceptance
• Assisting children to care about others because it brings them meaning rather than expecting anything in return
• Involving children in public service at a children’s hospital
• Instructing children to respect senior citizens by volunteering at independent living facilities
• Drawing awareness to common courtesies, such as introducing oneself, shaking hands with others and thanking people for doing kind gestures for them
• Coaching children to share and play cooperatively with others
• Working with children to learn to respect and assist those who are disabled or have learning limitations

Parents must make an effort to demonstrate through word and action what civility exemplifies. And this is where healing America comes into play. Civility is not dead in our country. We just saw examples of what happens when it rears its ugly head. No hand wringing, tears, whining, bemoaning or folding up the flag yet. How about taking the seven concepts above and applying them to ourselves as adults? San Diego has a wonderful children’s hospital, volunteer opportunities, and charitable organizations that need our help and can help us learn to be more civil to one another.

Along the way, here are some simple tips for parents to share with their children to insure they are teaching manners and civility:

• Remember to say "please" and "thank you" for everything. Those two words are the stepping-stones of manners.
• Speak to people respectfully. Keep your tone positive and upbeat, and phrase your words so they do not come off as insulting.
• Listen to others. It's proper manners to listen to when people are speaking. Let them know with a nod of the head or other body language that you are indeed listening.
• Shake hands with people you're meeting for the first time or with whom you're just acquaintances. This shows you're friendly and respectful.
• Consider others’ feelings by being receptive of their thoughts and opinions without forcing your own upon them. Being rude to someone shows you lack manners.
• Accept others for who they are even if you don't agree with them or their decisions. Accept apologies from people who offer them; it's the polite thing to do.

Imagine that world. It is the responsibility of all of us in charge of children to make sure that the world of our children’s future is more civil than the world we leave behind. Especially the world over this past couple of weeks.

I look forward to asking my son, "What do you say?" a few thousand times.

The best is yet to be and let's hope that it's a polite road.

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Blogger Leah said...

Thats an interesting article about manners in todays world. Another thing that I have noticed is that strangers don't say "bless you" when anyone sneezes. I always get odd looks from people when I say it to someone. I am sure that if you and Todd lead by example, Lucas will be the most polite kid on the block!

October 13, 2009 at 4:36 PM  

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