When I left home for a visit, my mother’s parting words were always “Mind your manners.” Except for the basics such as, don’t chew with your mouth full or reach across the table to take the last biscuit, she wasn’t talking about table manners. At our house, we weren’t concerned with the etiquette of fine dining. She was talking about behavior: “Say please and thank you, don’t interrupt your elders when they’re talking, wait your turn, be polite, pick up after yourself, say “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir;” when addressing adults. In other words, simple courtesies.
Some of my non-Southern-born-and-bred friends tell me that “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir” makes them feel old. OK, so maybe it’s just a Southern thing. And, really, it’s not such a big deal with me. But it is not OK with me when the teenager with green and purple spiked hair, decked out in four inch platform boots and a T-shirt with ” NOPE ” in block letters across her chest yells across the hair salon, “Louise! Ready for ya!” It’s not about her attire; that’s her space and I respect it; I only ask that she respect mine. We call that being polite.
Although Southerners are nothing if not traditional, my mother’s insistence on good manners was not just about tradition. In our rural farming community; short on funds, long on pride; manners were much more than that. Poor manners signaled “poor breeding.” There was no shame in being poor, but to be poor and poorly brought up was unacceptable.
But that was then and this is now. There has been a dramatic shift in our societal norms. Rudeness seems to carry little if any stigma. Adults interrupt their conversations to answer the whining toddler tugging at their sleeve, drivers honk their horns and yell obscenities at the slightest provocation. Lyrics of popular songs are laced with profanity.
Sadly, we have allowed, even welcomed this, for whatever reasons; entertainment, vicarious revenge, the love of a good fight, or just plain apathy. Between 70 and 80% of respondents in a recent survey (1) believed that lack of civility in our society has risen to crisis proportions. And yet in that same survey, over 90% believed that they are “always or usually” respectful and polite to others and 75% said they are” willing to set a good example by practicing civility. ” Hmmm. Somehow the math doesn’t work. In the words of the immortal Pogo: ” We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The fix is so simple as to be embarrassing. Any first grader could tell you the answer; The Golden Rule, plain and simple:
“Do unto others as you would have them do to you. (2)”
How hard is that, really? And the best part? Good manners cost nothing.
(1) Civility in America VII: The State of Civility, 2017 Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate
(2) Matthew 7:12 NCV