Monday, August 27, 2012

Manners Matter

So, first of all, I have to apologize for not writing for MONTHs.  Our family had a major move and between boxing up things, house closings, new schools...well, it's been a bit crazy.  But we've landed and everyone seems happy and healthy in their new schools, and we've only met friendly, gracious people.  We've been very blessed!  And I'm so glad to be back writing! 

A few things have occurred to me the past few months, and the first is the importance of manners.  I was just talking to a good friend of mine, and she was telling me how they were traveling this summer in a different country.  The family was in a taxi, and the taxi driver, in broken english, said, "Your family must be very rich."  They all started laughing and said, no, why would you think that?  And the taxi driver replied, "Your boys have such good manners."  Her boys are both in middle school and are very well-mannered, but she was surprised by the driver's reaction.

And then my college friends and I met up this summer for a weekend with all our kids...eight adults, eight kids ranging in age from 13 to 6, and two doggies.  In one house.  Everyone had a great time...the kids ran from activity to activity, playing, and made new friendships.  The adults had fun, were able to supervise kids while having our own conversations, and there was no stress.  No one child causing drama, no one child insisting upon his or her own way, no one child seeking the spotlight.

It occurred to me that all the children showed good manners, and that their good manners enabled them to have a great time.  When they played a game, they knew there was no cheating.  They knew no one would be a ball hog.  They knew not to sulk if they didn't win, and to be a gracious victor if they did.  And because they all knew this, there was no tension and no resentment.  There were no factions within the group, and no drama for the adults to resolve.

It's because manners are the little signals we send out to others.  It tells us how we feel about others, and how we feel about ourselves.  When we wait our turn at a four-way stop, we show respect for rules.  When we show up on time for an appointment, we demonstrate respect for others' time.  When we hold the door open for an older person and smile, we show that we have respect for our elders.

But when we don't show manners, we send out signals loud and clear, too.  We are saying we are more important than the next person on line.  We saying we are in a greater rush, that our time is more valuable than another's.  Lack of manners betrays an underlying self-centeredness.  When we don't hold open a door for the next person, when we don't ask to be excused at the dinner table, when we don't say thank you to those who prepared or served our meal, we show a self-importance.  We show that we believe we are the center of our universe and that others exist around us, much like the planets orbit the sun.  Manners show that we know that we are not, in fact, the center of the universe, and we extend to others thanks and respect they are due, simply by being a person worthy of dignity just like we are.

Manners may seem easy to overlook, but a small courtesy done with a smile can brighten someone's day and show that we think them worthy of dignity and respect without saying a word.  

There are no great acts. 
There are only small acts done with great love.
-- Mother Teresa