Etiquette and Civility Will Always Matter in Your Life and Mine
Parents Have the Biggest Influence on Their Children's Social Growth
How many of us grew up in a family environment of courtesy and civility where we could absorb proper manners during our childhood and adolescense? Some of us had this privilege and some of us did not.
For children in the United States, Canada, and many countries in the world today, life is vastly different than their parents' era of youth. Traditional polite customs and common courtesies are no longer being taught and expected in schools. The demographics for children in the home having a mother who does not work outside of the home and a father who is employed have changed sharply.
The Pew Social and Demographic Trends was published on April 13, 2012. In the United States, regarding children under age 18, three in 10 mothers today are stay-at-home moms. In 1969, the number was approximately 40% higher than that. In the 1930s, the number of mothers staying home was even higher.
In the recent polls taken by the Pew Foundation, 40% of full-time working mothers said they always feel rushed or stressed.
These changes in lifestyle have been a component of the decline in mothers and fathers teaching by word and example the common courtesies to their children. There are many other factors, too, such as less time being spent together as a family, less time eating together as a family, and also more time being spent in front of televisions and computers. Additionally, there are vulgar television programs with very bad role models. Many times parents are at work and do not have filters or controls on the computer or television in the household. In other instances, some parents just do not care if their young, impressionable children and teenagers see these kinds of programs where there is no respect for others shown.
Still and definitely, there are a good number of moms (and dads) who do take the time -- regardless of whether the mother works outside the home -- to instill good manners into their children's every day activities -- and many of these same parents are mindful of the technological influences affecting their children. I say Bravo for them. It is not easy in this day and age, but it is so very worth the effort.
Some People Say Etiquette, Schmetiquette
Etiquette, Schmetiquette -- some people say when the topic of etiquette comes up. Some people say this as though etiquette has little relevance in their lives. Those people act as though etiquette is something separate and unneeded. Yet all of us know how it feels to be treated unfairly and unkindly at one time or another. All of us know the contrast in emotions we feel when we are treated respectfully and kindly. These interactions of varying kinds happen to all of us in the busy jostle of life. Therefore etiquette or the lack of it is part of our lives whether we realize it or not.
Etiquette, for the most part, is a combination of common sense and courtesy mixed with equal components of graciousness and compassion. The Irish novelist, Lawrence Sterne (1713-1768) said it well: "To have respect for ourselves guides our morals; and to have deference for others governs our manners."
Etiquette Involves Respect for All Persons
Our children and teenagers benefit greatly when we teach them by word and example the importance of courtesy, poise and civility. They gain and retain self-confidence when they understand how to act in various social situations such as making introductions or being introduced, building positive relationships at school or work, being a gracious guest or being a gracious host -- and many other important but day-to-day events.
Any of us -- adult or youth -- can benefit by learning or brushing up on etiquette because so much has changed in the last twenty years. We communicate in many ways and need to be mindful of not forgetting to communicate in the time-tested ways of face-to-face conversation, written letters and polite telephone calls rather than relying solely on arms-length technology.
Etiquette Workshops Can Be Fun and Very Enlightening
There are classes and role-playing workshops for various ages and topics in many cities today. Prices range from $25 to $100 for an hour-long class depending on the subject and the length of the course. Some schools of etiquette offer weeks or months of training on several combined topics while other schools offer short hands-on workshops on only one or two topics at a time. There are also finishing schools or private schools which wisely combine the academic program with the etiquette training. One school I'm thinking of on Maui, for instance, has fine dining at the lunch hour for the students. Students are seated according to a computer print-out. The students do not get to choose with whom they sit. In this way, the students learn to practice their fine-dining skills which not only includes dining manners but also includes positive, socially acceptable conversation, practicing the art of introductions and learning to follow cues.
Besides formal classes and informal but professionally-given workshops, there are troves of information concerning good etiquette at our fingertips -- online. Some of it is well-presented and is good advice and other online etiquette websites are rather tacky, so we must be careful in choosing information we find online if we are going to present it to our younger family members.
Etiquette and Civility Equals Something Greater
The true worth of etiquette, I think, is so much more than the fun, the challenge or the interesting social interactions which communicate to another person that you do, indeed, respect them. To me, George Bernard Shaw summed it up completely when he had one of his characters say in the play, Pygmalion (Act IV):
"The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another."
Have you seen the film on PBS about Dolly Madison? It's a very good re-enactment of portions of her life using actual journal entries and letters she wrote. I haven't compared Mrs. Madison's year of birth with Emily Post's yet. I'm not sure who came first onto the social scene. But I do think Dolly Madison has much to teach us. In her semi-wealthy days with her husband, she loved to entertain with big weekly parties. Anyone could attend. She died quite poor, but only financially poor. Spiritually, she was rich. She respected people, all people. She was a great lady with natural compassion and a desire to develop her social skills.
Etiquette is a label for what really is common sense, compassion and courtesy. Etiquette has many facets and, like the morning sun shining through a clean window pane, knowledge of etiquette brightens our day and helps us appreciate all the good people in our midst.
3 minute video -- Kindness must come from the Heart
© 2012 Pamela Kinnaird W
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