The Heart of the Manner
4-Homework for the Road-Ours & Our Kids'
The Heart of The Manner
My father did not just remind me to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
He explained why it was important: People who perform a service of any kind ought to be acknowledged. They are doing a job
that helps you, in some way, and their reward for that job is a simple thank you from you. They need and deserve your acknowledgement
and that is how you show their job your respect. For my father, manners were not just a set of rules. They were a philosophy.
My mother was a most gracious person. She was always nice to anyone with whom she had dealings. I never saw my mother
lose her temper or ever respond rudely. As a result, everybody loved her, and was willing to move mountains for her. My mother
also gave me great advice. She said-get to know and befriend and always be grateful to people who perform for you a service
because, in case of an emergency, if you need anything, they will remember your kindness and reciprocate and try to help you.
I passed that on first hand one day to my son. There exists a small parking lot near our bank that always fills up
very quickly. The parking attendant, a much older man sits in a booth in this parking lot. I have never understood what he
actually does. He does not collect tickets. He does not move cars. He just sits most of the day. I always smile at him, I
always say hello and I always give him a dollar and say thank you. He always smiles back and says, you're welcome and thank
you very much.
One day, I had my son with me, I was running very late, and it was critical I get to the bank before
it closed. There were no empty parking spaces. But when the parking attendant saw me, he came out of his booth, moved a cone,
and motioned me into that reserved space right in front of the bank. When my son saw this, he asked me why we were allowed
to park there? I repeated what my mother had said.
While manners are a state of being, they do not have to reflect
our feelings. We can intensely dislike a person's point of view and still listen with civility. We can feel extremely frustrated
by a situation and still behave in a civil manner. We can become absolutely irate with someone and still respond in a civil
tone. And we should if we want to be role models for our children. If our children are going to grow into emotionally mature
adults, they need to learn how to listen courteously, behave politely, and respond respectfully without feeling threatened.
Listening With Civility
There is no excuse or logical reason for getting into an emotional shouting match
in the middle of an exchange of ideas; becoming angry or aggressive during a meeting; or booing a guest lecturer while he/she
is speaking, solely because you vehemently disagree with that person's views or policies. Would it not be better to listen
very carefully to what that person has to say? Allow them to speak in full, and then respond? That way, you would have sufficient
facts with which to comment. For example, you could say-So let me understand this. You're saying that.. and wait for the other
person to reply. Then continue with-Well, that means such and such, right? And wait for them to comment. People show their
true thoughts if you give them enough space and rope so to speak. And, by asking a lot of questions, you can pin them down
on contradictions and loopholes. (I talk about the value of asking questions a lot throughout this book. It is a very powerful
communications skill for kids.)
By the way, a civil response does not mean a weak response Replies can be sharp,
and/or witty and fire bullet holes into arguments without ever being rude or disrespectful. I actually believe that all teens
could benefit greatly from Debate and such a class would be a wonderful requirement in our school system.
Respectfully, Behaving Appropriately, Behaving with Deference
During a past presidential election, I remember driving
past many slashed signs outside certain people's homes. Had some found it necessary to go, in the middle of the night, onto
private property and take away someone else's freedom to exercise their preference for a political candidate? And all in the
name of protest? I found this disturbing. Not only was it undemocratic, and therefore, rather hypocritical on the part of
those who were doing the slashing, it showed a shocking lack of civil behavior. It left a glaring example, for our children,
of lack of respect for other people's rights and property.
Manners also mean behaving appropriately and understanding
that not all environments are equal. Behavior should adapt itself to a specific time or circumstance. Kids don't understand
this very well. They think they can just be who they are, in their dress and language and attitude, in all places, at all
times-after all, it is about their identity, their free expression, and their freedom! (See Humor-Time & Place)
Several years ago, I attended a Quince Anos celebration for a classmate of my son's. A lovely religious ceremony,
at the beginning of which, a procession of girls walks down the aisle in honor of the girl celebrating her 15th birthday.
As I sat watching the procession, I was shocked to see that one of the girls in formal dress was chewing gum! Did she not
know that this was inappropriate? Had no one told her? Where was her mother, a highly educated woman with a successful career
as a lawyer! Would her mother have gone into court or a client meeting chewing gum?
Such cluelessness occurred
again when we all attended a funeral for another classmate's father who had died quite tragically of a sudden heart attack.
It was a very large and solemn gathering, in a very beautiful church. In walked a teenage girl in sweats and flip-flops! Who
allowed her to leave her house like that! (And believe me, this young lady had more than enough designer clothes from which
to choose!) Had no one told her that she was not jogging; that she was not at the beach; and that she should not go to a church
and to a funeral looking like that?
Another example occurred when I was in New York, in an elevator. A young man
got in, clearly in a hurry. When the elevator reached the ground floor, he went flying out in front of everyone, including
two elderly persons. I told my son when he turned eleven that he now had to let his grandmother get into an elevator first.
He had to allow an older person to go before him, on a bus or train. When he turned 13, he needed to hold the door for me,
and wait for me to enter first. When he began to date, I reminded him to walk alongside a girl, not in front of her,
as he might with his friends, to sit on the outside at a table, or in a booth, and to make sure he always held a
He would sigh at me in near disgust. I didn't care. My husband was a gentleman. I wanted to raise a future
gentleman. I knew it wouldn't happen overnight. It would take constant repetition, and my son rolling his eyes, but eventually,
it went into his computer and became automatic.He came to understand that having manners did not take away from being tough!
Thank you very much.
May I please?
Hello, Mr. or Mrs. So and So, I am fine, thank you, how are you?
Think back and remember how
much time we all spent teaching our very young children to say please, thank you, and may I? And,
they'd listen and remember. Why? Because we were constantly reminding them. We were always with them to nudge them. Young
children are really very good when they're reminded. They want to be nice. They want to do the right thing.
think back to when it all ended. When did we stop reminding our older children to say please and thank you,
and may I, or hello. Was it when they started taking the school bus, and we didn't think to remind them
to say thank you to Mr. Walker before they got off the bus? Was it when they began to spend more time with peers, and we forgot
to remind them to thank Mrs. Johnson for having them over, or driving them home? Was it when they began to socialize, and
we forgot to remind them to say, Hello, Mrs. Kay, this is Ali, may I please speak to Johnny?
pleases and thank yous and may Is that came like clockwork when we were there watching and listening,
naturally evaporate, and vanish as our children grow older, unless we continue to reinforce, and update them. If we stop reminding,
our kids will stop remembering. I see so many older children totally unaware that they should say please, thank
you, excuse me, may I, to a store clerk, waiter or waitress, bus driver, parent, housekeeper, care giver.
we do not remind ourselves, we, too, will forget. Parents who might have asked their young children to say please
and thank you, say nothing of the kind, themselves. I once attended a large fundraiser dinner. One waiter served
the wine. Another served the food. Yet a third served desert and coffee. I knew I was going to write this article, so I made
an effort to observe how many of us said thank you, at any point when a busboy or waiter leaned forward, in front of us, to
place something down or take something away. Two of us did. Why didn't anyone else? They were very nice people who weren't
really conscious of the waiters or what they were doing. The servers were background, just part of the environment. So ingrained
in me were my father's words, that I couldn't imagine not saying please or thank you to someone engaged
in serving me.
Responding With Civility Even When Furious?
One day, when my son was 10 yrs old, he
invited a friend to go and play Laser Tag. Finding the Laser Tag place was not easy. It was not near our home, and I did not
then own a very much-needed GPS system. (I have a terrible sense of direction)
I called, what I thought was the Laser
Tag place, to ask directions, and we ended up way out of our way, at another establishment with the same name! My son became
infuriated, and out of frustration, began to yell at me in the car
You are so stupid, Mommy!
I cannot believe you
were so stupid!
He was on a "stupid" roll. Thank goodness his vocabulary was so limited! Finally, I turned
to him, ever so quietly, and evenly and responded,
You know what? We're going home.
He looked at me in sudden panic!
Because you called me names, and Clay, I'm sorry honey, but we'll invite you another day.
We are going home.
My son burst into sobs, and kept repeating,
I'm sorry, Mommy, I'm sorry please, please can we
go? I won't call you any more names, I promise! I'm sorry I called you names; I really didn't mean it, really! Please!
Not today, we can go another day but not today.
Because you were just too rude.
But I said I was
I know you did, and I accept your apology, but that doesn't change today. Today is over.
We drove back
and dropped his friend off, I explained to his mother what happened and she not only understood, she was so grateful that
I had the courage to actually do that.
My son began to cry again. When we got home, I sat him down on the couch.
I said, I am sad we couldn't play and have fun today. But, I got lost and you got mad at me for getting lost, and you called
me names, for getting lost, and that's not ok. It's not ok to call people names when you are mad or frustrated. It's not ok
to call someone names because they couldn't do or find something. How would you feel if I called you "stupid" every
time you made a mistake? And it is never ok to call your mother or your father names. I'm sure you won't do that again. And
I'm also sure that next time I will be able to find this place.
My son never, ever called me a name after that.
He did say,
Mom, you don't understand!
Mom, leave me alone!
Mom, that makes no sense!
Mom, that's such
a stupid reason! (The word 'stupid' did resurface a number of times!!) Mom, that's idiotic logic!
Mom, just stop talking!
Mom, I'm not going to listen to you!
The message came home loud and clear that Laser Tag day, and it never had
to be repeated. He understood the fundamental respect all of us were expected to have for each other, and calling each other
names or swearing at each other was neither appropriate nor acceptable.
In fact, all swearing was taboo while he
was growing up. If my husband swore, my son would charge him a dollar! So, my son would try his best to get his father to
swear. That was great fun to watch! And I made a deal with my son. I would allow him see PG13 and then, when he got older,
some really good "R" rated movies- we were both movie buffs-if he agreed never to use bad language at home or in
front of us. If I heard bad language, or anything repeated from the movies, no more movies. Deal! He kept his promise, and
we saw a lot of films together.
And while he might have used questionable language when he was with his peers,
he knew enough never to use it at home. This edict gave him an opportunity to learn what was appropriate in time and place.
A friend, on the other hand, told me that her daughter, a sweetheart, and a ninth grader had a friend who was always
outrageously rude on the phone with her mother, while she was in my friend's car! Finally, my friend, who did not believe
she should meddle, finally told this girl that she was going to have to find a better way to communicate with her mother,
that this was totally inappropriate and could not go on in her car.
Guess what happened? The conversations stopped,
just like that! Isn't that interesting?
So, where are we with our kids? Past the please and thank-you's?
Past putting a lid on bad language? Past accepting that all environments are not equal, and behavior and dress need
to match the occasion? Are we way past reminding them? And so, have they forgotten how to listen and behave and respond with
Many of us are gone a good part of the day. And while we might help our young children with their homework,
nag them about their chores, set limits and ground rules, we will not have the opportunity to observe how they behave when
they are out and about. We might not see them, perhaps behaving rudely to a store clerk, shouting out of car windows, giving
the finger to someone, forgetting to say thank you, jumping ahead of an older adult, or not thinking to hold a door. And as
they grow older, and busier and more independent, they no longer have us around to remind them of the proper way to act or
Kids can know, however, that being gracious is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength.
Just as bullying comes from lack of self-esteem and confidence, so too, does rudeness come from feeling defensive, and threatened.
To Kids: 2 Final Points:
All arrogance stems from a need for control, an inflated sense of ego, and deep
insecurity. If you can become comfortable in your skin, you will never have a need to be rude to others. Manners will not
diminish your identity, your personality, your opinions, your dislikes, or your freedom. To show courtesy and respect and
civility and at the same time, retain your sense of purpose and values is, in the end, the true strength of character.
Having Manners is an equal opportunity characteristic. If
you wish to question true democratic values, look first to your own behavior, and make sure you are treating those around
you equally, which means with the same respect you would expect to be treated.. And saying a simple 'thank you' to those who
perform a service for you would be a big first step towards creating a more egalitarian and civil society for all.
.Book Installment #28 Tao of Money
H20 to Go!
Growing Emotional Resilience and Navigating Through Childhood
with Heart, Humor & Optimism
BY Margo Judge
H20 to Go! Copyright, 2004
By Margo Judge
All rights reserved.
All material on this website protected.
for reprinting with
Attribution to Margo@MomOpinion Matters (TM)