When I was young, I had a board game called The Emily Post Popularity Game. Its underlying theme was that proper etiquette and good manners won friends, which presented opportunities to attend parties, sports events and dinners. After all, who wants a party guest who blows his nose into his hands?
Emily Post was once revered as one of the most respected women in the United States. According to Dinitia Smith’s 2008 article, “She Fine-Tuned the Forks of the Richan Vulgars” (NY Times, 2008), Pageant magazine named Emily Post as the 2nd most powerful woman in America, after Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1950. That speaks to how much Ms. Post’s opinions regarding proper etiquette and good manners were valued.
Today, generally speaking, we’re living in a society where there seems to be little regard for the concern or safety of others. Whether it’s on a grand scale of mass violence, or a small act of cutting ahead of the next person in line when a new check-out lane opens at the grocery store, we are eager to satisfy our own needs first.
The funny thing about the loss of manners, is that we can rationalize it away. “I have to rush to get home,” “I’m in 15 minute parking,” “I have to pick up my child,” “I’m late for work.” These are some of the reason we have to forego good manners and put someone else’s needs ahead of our own.
I didn’t always see it like that. Like most children, my sisters, brother and I learned about etiquette and manners from observing and listening to our parents and other adults to whom we looked up. We were expected to send “thank you” notes within two weeks of receiving a graduation, bridal shower, or wedding gift. We chewed with our mouth closed. We didn’t blow bubbles into our milk with a straw. We said “excuse me” if our body made an unintended sound and “bless you” when someone sneezed. We held the door open for the person behind us. We gave up our seat for an elderly or pregnant individual while waiting to be seated in a restaurant. We RSVP’d when we received an invitation. We didn’t slurp our soup. We didn’t talk on our avocado green corded telephone while eating. And, the television set was always turned off for dinner.
These were courtesies that presumably made life a little more pleasant for everyone else. Yet, many of these “rules to live by” instilled in the children of my generation seem to be slipping away.
Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but there’s something special about receiving a handwritten thank you note. If for no other reason, it lets me know that someone didn’t walk off with the happy couple’s wedding haul. I appreciate knowing that the baby gift which I spent an hour deliberating over fit the newborn. It’s helpful to know whether I’m hosting a party for 20 individuals or only 6.
In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, which can be heightened during the December holidays when many individuals feel especially stressed, it’s easy to focus on where we need to be and what we need to do. We lose sight of the strangers around us and the opportunities to extend good manners and common courtesies. Perhaps we don’t notice that the convenience store door nearly slammed into the face of the person walking in behind us. We might rush to get the one open parking spot ahead of the oncoming car that is equi-distance to it. Or, maybe it’s a mad dash to be the next in line at the check-out or to grab the last cart. All the while, our children are observing and watching us.
Smith shared a quote from Emily Post, dated 1922, where she spoke of the “… instinctive consideration for the feelings of others…”. That really is the essence of proper etiquette and good manners – extending the courtesies and kindnesses that make life a little more pleasant for others. And, it doesn’t take money or much time to practice proper etiquette and good manners, but let your children observe you doing it. Hold the door open at the store, even when the rain is chilling. Invite someone with only four items to check out ahead of your 200 items. Let the other driver take the closer parking spot.
You might get rewarded with a smile when you hold the door open and let the patron behind you walk in ahead of you, or a “thank you” for helping out someone who’s 37 cents short at the fast food counter. If you believe that “please” and “thank you” really are magic words, they can bring magic to someone’s day. And, your children will walk away with a lesson of incalculable worth.
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dune-brook, call 800-897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.