Do unto Others: Where have all the Good Manners Gone?

What is something that is free and will last forever? Manners. And it seems logical that we should use them generously. But in some circles, good manners have become an endangered species.

What are manners? Showing someone else that you’re respectful and considerate of their feelings and actions. Getting down to basics, it can be as simple as saying “please” and “thank you.” It makes the other person feel verified and appreciated. And when you do so, you expect nothing in return other than a big smile.

Recently, we came across this headline in the Boston Globe newspaper: “Don’t be an ingrate. Send grandma that thank-you note.” This got us thinking about doing the right thing and how so many of us have let this pass us by.

Have you ever:

  • Had a door slam in your face or held a door open for someone who didn’t say, “Thank you?”

  • Given someone a gift and never received a thank you note or even a verbal thanks you?
  • Waited for a seat in a crowded airport that is occupied by a young person who doesn’t get up to offer you theirs?
  • Had someone sit in front of you in a movie theater wearing a big hat that they refuse to remove?
  • Seen someone take a handicapped seat in a movie theater when they’re not handicapped or used the handicapped stall in a public restroom? Or how about that handicapped parking spot when they get out and walk quite fine, thank you.
  • Sat in a concert near someone who is chomping on candy, talking or playing with their Smartphone?
  • Been put on hold with a doctor’s office for more than 10 minutes?
  • Heard people talking about body functions in public or even their active sex lives?
  • Had your hands full of books, dropped something and had no one offer to pick it up?
  • Tried to change lanes on the highway and no one is willing to let you in?

Here’s a classic example of bad manners we saw on a Facebook post recently from a man who was visiting the Louvre in Paris. “Getting up close to see the Mona Lisa involved more intense fighting skills than Mortal Kombat. Some of the wealthy tourists are ruthless, stepping on each other in their Louis Vuitton shoes while wearing their Burberry trench coats. No match for my Jordan’s.”

We know that money and owning expensive stuff doesn’t breed manners.

Does the absence of manners signal a lack of respect for authority? Is it the influence of the internet and social media? Perhaps not interacting with others face-to-face has whittled away at our ability to socialize politely. We live in a world where everything is fast, many have their faces buried in their cell phones or tablets and it's all about me. Narcissism has reared its ugly head higher than ever.

Not that long ago, Barbara brought homemade brownies to friends for the husband’s birthday. “I don’t like brownies,” he announced as she handed them to him. She had expected he instead would first say, “Oh, thank you for your lovely gesture. We’ll enjoy them.” The wife then made the situation worse in Barbara’s mind by adding, “Take them back, I’ll never eat them, either.” Barbara was shocked, expecting her at least to say, “We’ll put them in the freezer for when our children and grandchildren visit.” Yes, being honest is important but so is not hurting someone’s feelings. The couple could have given the delicious homemade brownies to their mailman or waste collector or thrown them out. Hurt feelings often are due to BAD MANNERS!

Margaret has encountered bad manners, too. One night when she had a group over, someone spilled red wine on her rug and didn’t offer to have it cleaned. If she had, Margaret would have told her it wasn’t necessary. She didn’t want her guest to feel uncomfortable. That’s good manners.

Some of you might ask, what’s in it for me to use good manners? Try interviewing for a job without them. This is a situation when you want to make a good first impression. Here’s a typical scenario:

The interviewer enters the room. You are younger, so you stand as a sign of respect. You shake his hand, look him in the eye and state your name. He drops his pen. You rush to pick it up. You listen intently and do not interrupt. After the interview, you get up, shake hands and tell the interviewer, “Thank you for taking the time to interview me.” And then you get home and hand write or at the very least email a thank you note.

Such behavior will make you stand out and possibly give you the edge if someone else is in the running for the same job.

How do we know what is the right thing to do? Manners are taught, not inherited. Maybe your mother, like Margaret’s, constantly reminded you to stand when you’re introduced to an elderly person, chew with your mouth closed, place your napkin in your lap before you eat, and never put your elbows on the table. Barbara’s mother taught her always to write a thank-you for anything or at least call.

Sometimes institutions share their idea of good manners. A favorite resort Barbara loves has little signs placed around its rooms: “Please turn off your cell phones.” Many observe this, but some don’t, and that’s really bad when you’re being asked to observe rules.

Think of mastering good manners as akin to learning an instrument or perfecting a skill in sports, it takes practice. Start today. Or begin teaching your kids manners when they’re old enough to understand language. There are children’s books that talk about manners and teach empathy. Barbara passed on this skill set to her daughters. For their Bat Mitzvahs, they had to include something about the gift given rather than make the note a generic—"Thank you for the gift.” For example, “Thank you for the beautiful enameled bracelet. I can’t wait to wear it, maybe, even on the day of Bat Mitzvah. It would perfectly with my polka dot blue dress.”

Ironically, practicing good manners can be infectious. People will find themselves paying it forward. When someone lets you into their lane in traffic, you probably will find yourself doing the same. Why not? What’s the big deal? Perhaps, you’ll get home a few seconds later.

You drop something and someone standing nearby picks it up. You do the same when you’re in that situation. Why not?

An elderly man is standing on the subway waiting for a seat. A younger person graciously offers him her seat. Others see this and perhaps parrot the same behavior when the occasion arises. Unwittingly, in such situations, you could start a good manners movement.

Manners don’t cost a thing and just think how much better our world, which is so divided these days would be, if we’d all be respectful of each other and exhibit good manners. And on a final note, remember that it’s good manners never to correct someone in person in front of others that they’re exhibiting poor manners. Tell them later in an aside.


1 comment

  • Alan Keeling

    Bad manners really makes my blood boil. I`ve seen bad manners on golf courses, on buses, in supermarkets when two people block gangways to have a `natter.` Barmaids who refuse to serve me in a pub because I`m not a `regular` at the pub. Drivers who won`t stop at traffic lights when the lights go to RED. Etc, Etc, Etc.

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