My husband was raised with a much greater emphasis on manners than I was. I don’t remember ever saying “yes, ma’am” or “no, sir” growing up. My dad was a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force but somehow he didn’t stress formal manners at home. We lived in southeastern Michigan where it seemed no one observed formalities of any kind–I certainly wasn’t the only one neglecting to use ma’am and sir.
But it is interesting now to see my little boys learn good manners from their Daddy. Will, who is seven, has the responsibility of taking out the trash. A couple of weeks ago Daddy left for work one morning and then called home to remind Will to take out the trash. I was in the shower, and the boys were playing in the basement. So when I came downstairs to make breakfast I played the message on the machine. In response to hearing his Daddy’s reminder, Will immediately started marching towards the garage while calling out “Yes, Sir!” It cracked me up to hear him say “yes, sir” to the answering machine, but also made me wonder whether we’re being a little rigid. But Daddy said, “no, ma’am we’re not.” I’m kidding, that’s not what he said.
Sam also has impeccable manners for a one-year-old. He almost always says “thank you” when you hand him something, and is very cooperative about saying please as well. He says “may I please be excused?” when he is finished eating, and he’ll just keep saying it, up to three hundred times with increasing volume and frustration until he is excused and removed from his high chair. But what is funniest about him is riding in the car. A couple of months back just Sam and I were in the car. Someone nearby honked their horn (not even at us), and Sam took his sippy cup out of his mouth to call out, “Sorry!” A mile or two later it happened again. I was initially perplexed and then it hit me. I’m afraid it is not unheard of for me to be doing something (opening something for the boys, reaching for a toy, or applying mascara for example) whereby I benefit from a little honk of a reminder that the light is now green. I invariably say, “sorry,” when I get one of these reminders. So now when we ride around town, every honk, no matter how distant gets a “SORRY!” from Sam.
Sam has also picked up on the ever-important “thank you” wave. When you live in DC there are traffic situations encountered daily where the only way in is when some kind and generous soul lets you go in front to them. But sometimes Sam gets stuck on this maneuver, thanking and waving to every driver on the road.
But Sam’s amusing antics aside, I really do think we could all benefit from a reformation of modern manners. I try very hard to instill in my boys the importance of listening, and of remembering and using people’s names (I think people who claim to be bad with names really just aren’t trying, because I used to be terrible with names until I decided to be good with names). I want my boys to look adults in the eye and answer them, to be engaging and polite in all situations. I believe manners show respect, not in an empty, formulaic sense, but in a “you are made in the image of God and worthy of respect” sense.
Simply put, we honor God by honoring one another, and when you come down to it, it’s really just the golden rule. I appreciate when someone remembers my name, looks me in the eye, and speaks to me with gentleness and respect.
What’s more is that the Creator of the universe knows my name and yours, and He is always whispering to us with gentleness and love. I bet if we listen this week to that still small voice we’ll get better manners thrown in.