My husband recently travelled to visit his homeland in Bavaria, Germany.
Needless to say, I was on edge with worries about his safety. He assured me that “bad things can happen anywhere.” His assurance doesn’t offer much comfort, but I know that he felt it justified his reasoning as to why September 2016 was just as good a time as any to travel outside of the U.S.
Of course in Germany, one would expect to see glorious castles, breathtaking mountain views and Munich’s Glockenspiel.
When he recounted his visit, though, what was equally impressive to my husband was the chivalry of the children. I don’t mean that they were slaying dragons to defend a woman’s honor, or dropping jackets over mud puddles. Rather, without prodding or hesitation, children would give up a seat to an older person on a train, or greet strangers on the street with a smile and “Guten Tag.”
It was pretty evident that it was just part of their being. In all likelihood, these behaviors were modeled for them by their parents and expected in their society.
It was a surprise for my husband to see this – news stories over the last year have painted a much different picture of today’s Germany. This growing melting pot of Europeans, Middle Easterners and Africans, who bring with them countless religious and cultural differences – still hold onto the kindnesses that my husband has always experienced in Germany.
The people may worship different gods, wear a lederhosen or covering over their face, or prefer goat meat over beef, but that has no apparent bearing on the courtesies and kindnesses they express to others.
I feel that we’ve lost some of that in American society. It’s not that we’re bad or selfish people. In fact, we show time and time again that we as a society are generous when others are in need, and empathize with others’ sadness, and every day we hear of heroic acts of our soldiers and regular joes. Rather, what I mean is that all of those little niceties aren’t necessarily at the forefront of our mind.
We as a society don’t always notice that while we’re seated and waiting patiently for our reservation to be called in the restaurant, that an elderly person is standing nearby awaiting his name to be called. Maybe we don’t notice the can of string beans rolling out of a shopper’s grocery bag and under the car in the parking lot.
It may be that our concentration is focused on the long day we’ve had at work or school, or the text on our phone, or we’re just drifting away in our own thoughts and blocking out the rest of the world. Perhaps without intent, phones and the busyness of everyday life has created a barrier between us and everyone else.
I came across a blog from Margie Mars, who incidentally is known as “Oma” – the German word for grandmother. She shares her thoughts on manners for children. What is rather ironic is that these same “manners” were touted as “attributes of leaders” during a leadership program in which I participated:
• Stand for introductions.
• Make eye contact.
• Smile and look happy to see friends, adults and new people you are meeting.
• Say your name with confidence in introductions.
• Be comfortable shaking hands.
• Have the ability to spark conversations and give more than a one-word answer.
Other niceties include:
• Saying excuse me, either when bumping into someone or when emitting a sound from your body.
• Open doors for people.
• Remember the “magic words” – Please and Thank You.
• Write thank you notes; send greeting cards and letters – and not just for birthdays and holidays
• Give compliments
• Begin emails with a greeting
• Cover your sneezes in your elbow – not your hand that touches other people and doorknobs
• Don’t swear or use vulgar language
In the Middles Ages, knights who followed their Code of Conduct would be rewarded with the hand of a maiden.
In today’s world, the reward is even better. A 19-year study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2010 tracked 753 children and found that children who showed prosocial behaviors (sharing, helping others, and showing empathy) were more likely to:
• Graduate high school on time
• Complete a college degree
• Obtain stable, full-time employment as young adults
They were also less likely to:
• Receive public assistance as adults
• Have a criminal record
That’s a noble return on an investment in kindness – and you don’t even have to joust to reap the benefit.
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call 800-897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at email@example.com.