Easter Week is a time of reflection, of remembering sacrifice, a chance to count our blessings whether we are Christians, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, agnostics or atheists. Maybe this is why I am thinking about my own faith, and my own family, especially my dearly deceased parents who worked tirelessly to impart their values and love to my sister and me. We were raised during World War II and the years of recovery thereafter.
(A cautionary word: When my husband heard that I was writing about “manners do matter,” he looked at me and said, “that is important, but about as exciting as packing a box of apples!” I burst out laughing……yes, true, but as John said, “necessary”.)
Some thoughts to ponder: In the Forties and Fifties manners were taught to youngsters. Where children were raised was incidental; it only mattered we knew how to behave. My mother was a stickler. Table manners were enforced at each meal. When we were eating dinner in a restaurant (indeed a special treat), I remember feeling a quick kick under the table if caught slurping my soup or putting an elbow where it didn’t belong. My mother’s no-no’s were numerous: no sassiness; stand up when an adult entered the room; always curtsy when introduced to an adult; and remember when in the presence of company, “children should be seen but not heard.” Whenever my parents entertained friends, I wore a Sunday School dress, and was invited to pass canapés. Upon a tacit nod from mother, I dutifully said “goodnight” to each guest, excused myself and ran upstairs to read before bedtime. I also remember riding the rapid transit and bus to my violin lessons in downtown Cleveland. If no seats were available, I quickly stood up so that an older person could sit.
The list of good manners was endless. Emily Post was the etiquette guru, and her book was a staple in most homes. My father, a quintessential gentleman, believed in The Golden Rule. His motto was, “if you cannot say anything nice about a person, then say nothing at all.” Even now, decades later, a little bell clangs in my head: “Remember your manners, Joy.”
Of course, societal behavior norms have evolved. Change is inevitable, and I try to embrace new ideas. I think of the Sixties, the era of the Viet Nam war, the emergence of Woman’s Lib, the relaxation of sexual mores and the rise of drug use. Restraints relaxed, and times changed. Many will say for the better. Perhaps, debatable. That decade impacted our world with vengeance. Young people rebelled against the tight authoritarian control of earlier decades.
My husband and I were married in 1957. Busy moving due to corporate transfers, raising babies in the sixties and seventies, we were not as rigid as our parents, but we tried to perpetuate solid values. Our children were taught good manners. I admit to being rather strict. And to this day, they remind me that they were not allowed to play outside until their thank-you notes were written!
Many millennial children are being raised in day-care facilities or by parents who are so busy multi-tasking or hovering over each action by their child that several old-fashioned practices elapse. Sadly, many families no longer sit down together to share a meal. Often children are not taught to say “please” or “thank you,” or write a real letter. It is not easy to be a parent or a child. Stress abounds. Cost of living is fierce, corporate loyalty is non-existent, college tuitions have gone through the roof. And life with its 24/7 news cycle and electronic gadgets doesn’t allow people to stop long enough to pick daisies or smell roses.
I count my blessings we raised our four offspring during the Donny and Marie, Happy Days, Mr. Ed era when TV violence was a Rawhide or Dragnet episode…long before video games or iPods were invented. Personal computers were in their infancy, and our children shared a land-line telephone or a car with the rest of the family. As dependent as we have become on cell phones and computers, I worry about the drawbacks of these devices. What has happened to give and take, thoughtful communication? Isn’t it sad that playdates must be arranged by mothers, and most kids can’t romp freely outdoors after school and play baseball with their pals or build a fort in the backyard?
Facebook is a conundrum. Although it helps families and friends stay connected, it also promotes nasty behavior. How people can be so vicious in their political “posts” baffles me. How they can blithely ignore propriety by attacking another person’s views is sickening. Is that any example for our youngsters to follow? Hardly.
So, at the risk of sounding like a fossil, allow me to offer a few closing comments. If you are a young parent, beset by your own challenges, or if you are a grandparent or older member of your family, please take every opportunity available to teach your youngsters the importance of good manners. Some niceties never go out of style. Show these young children and emerging adults the value of graciousness, kindness. Show them how much richer life is when you practice The Golden Rule and treat each other with dignity and respect. This is the best gift we can bestow upon our younger generations.
By your seasoned example, YOU can be a blessing better than all the jelly beans or chocolate Easter eggs in the universe!