by Nancy Parker Brummett
Some friends and my husband and I made our way to a much-anticipated Michael Card concert and found seats in the packed auditorium with a good view of the stage. But we should have paid more attention to who was seated nearby.
The two teenage girls directly in front of us spent the whole time sending text messages. Evidently they also had to show one another each message and reply, bobbing their heads back and forth throughout the concert.
The mum and grandma sides of me tried to focus on the fact that at least these two teens came to the concert and that maybe some of the wonderful music or Christian message was seeping into their pretty, bouncy heads. But the rest of my mind focused on the fact that their behavior was just plain rude—to those around them and to the talented performer who was giving his all.
Is anyone polite?
What ever happened to manners? Where are the “ladies and gentlemen” that every circus ringmaster addressed at the start of a performance?
Even the baby boomers, who are for the most part well-schooled in the principles of politeness, seem to have given up on civility in many situations. But if our generation doesn’t pass along the importance of manners to our children and grandchildren, who will?
Writing in one of his popular Breakpoint essays, Chuck Colson points out the increasing use of smart-mouthed kids in advertising—kids who roll their eyes at the ignorance and idiocy of their parents.
“Unfortunately, real-life children are watching—and mimicking—what they hear. And what they’re learning flies in the face of scriptural teaching and universally recognized rules of civility,” Colson writes. “The Bible consistently admonishes children to speak respectfully to their parents and other adults.”
A little decorum
In an attempt to sustain civility in our society, a number of guides and classes provide instruction on the proper etiquette for setting tables, extending invitations or making introductions. But who would be interested in these principles if no one they knew was polite?
As mature adults, our job is to demonstrate what we hope to see in our kids and grandkids. Their failure to write thank-you notes for birthday gifts should have no effect on our decision to write thank-you notes. We should go on thoughtfully acknowledging birthdays even when they don’t.
But it’s from Jesus that we get the most timelessly relevant rule for how we are to relate to one another. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).
Hold the door, please
In what other ways can we model manners? If you don’t want to hear someone’s cell phone playing the “1812 Overture” at the climax of an emotional movie, make sure your own phone is turned off. Turn phones off in public gatherings, business meetings, lunch dates with special friends—and bathroom stalls!
If you appreciate drivers giving way to let you enter a line of traffic, do the same for someone else—even when you’re in a hurry. Reply to invitations requesting a response well before the RSVP date and let the host or hostess know if your plans change. When it comes to thank-you notes, a quick one by e-mail is better than nothing, but a written note is a gift to the recipient.
Perhaps most important, actively listen when someone is talking to you and excuse yourself if you need to interrupt or end a conversation. The “magic words” of please, thank you and you’re welcome should flow as freely from your own lips as you hope they will from others’. Go out of your way to open doors for others, to offer a hand to anyone carrying heavy packages and to generally treat all people with respect.
Lynne Truss, a best-selling British author wrote a book about manners titled Talk to the Hand. Truss’ book is an attempt “to mourn, without much mature perspective or academic rigor, the apparent collapse of civility in all areas . . . then to locate a tiny flame of hope in the rubble and fan it madly with a big hat.”
Our job is to do some of that fanning ourselves by the way we conduct ourselves in the world. It is possible to restore manners to our society and leave behind an endowment of decorum. But, as with so many worthwhile efforts, the change must begin with us. Maybe it’s time for an etiquette class.
The polite Nancy Parker Brummett treats others with civility in Colorado Springs, Colo. Her website is: http://nancyparkerbrummett.com/