May 31, 2013

Reflections on Manners at the End of School

In the olden days, tradition taught children to respect certain persons and professions even before we learned by experience that they were trustworthy. As many of you may remember, respect was automatically allocated to the elderly. We never called an elder by his or her first name unless we used the prefix “Mr.,” “Miss,” or “Mrs.”

I observed from time to time that age does not necessarily bestow wisdom, but my parents required universal respect for the elderly without regard for wisdom, race, or station in life. We always spoke courteously to older people, and we were careful to respond with “yes ma’am” and “no sir.”

School teachers were highly respected persons. If a school teacher decided that a student required some punishment at school, this decision was never questioned at home; in fact, it was reinforced by being repeated at home. I always feared the embarrassment of getting a whipping at school, but I also feared the certain whipping I would get at home for having gotten a whipping at school. No one spoke ill of school teachers. We believed that these people were the link to a better future for our children.

We also respected doctors, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians, law enforcement folks, and even those who governed us by being duly elected by our parents. In other words we respected just about everyone—not a bad policy by which to live.

I am certain that having respect for clergy, teachers, doctors, and the elderly would not solve all of the problems in our complicated society, but certainly couldn’t hurt either. I am not naive enough to think that a return to the good old days is moreover possible or preferable, but learning and teaching respect would help in any age.

Wouldn’t it be great if over the summer all our students grew a major appendage called good manners? Mignon McLaughlin, has said: “As a car is useless in New York, essential everywhere else; the same with good manners.”

Or perhaps you better like this quotation from H. Jackson Brown, Jr., “Good manners sometimes means simply putting up with other people’s bad manners.”



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