It seems inconceivable that manners, good plain Ps and Qs, could ever pass out of fashion. To me, the simple pleases and thank yous of daily life are an inherent part of humanity, a vital cog in the machinery of society. You could probably throw in apologies for good measure too. What would happen to society, to social interaction if we just throw these niceties out of the window? And why would we?
My little booted footsteps around the Internet are much like my thought patterns, at best diagonal but usually just plain mysterious and inexplicable. One of the American news sites has various Lifestyle sections on it and the other day I found myself deep in the Parenting section.
Now, admittedly I don’t have anyone to parent except myself, my husband and a blue tit called Manky but it was fascinating reading. I started with an article about teaching children to apologise (and how I got to that, I really couldn’t explain and I’m not sure if this was the exact article, I’m sure it was longer). Saying sorry is a tough one and I could see the need for the article. It’s easy perhaps for parents (especially as childless people aren’t always quite so forgiving) to excuse their child’s misdeeds either by apologising for them or by embarrassedly muttering about their age or some problem or other. I believe it’s essential to learn, preferably at an early age, how to own up to your mistakes, with no shame or guilt (unless appropriate) then apologise for the mess-up. I’m sure you can all think of instances where you wished that an adult had acquired this skill.
I also appreciate that there’s a fine line, as with everything, for parents to tread. A child can easily be made to feel guilty about a trivial issue or error. I’m one of those adults who apologises for everything, something that my growing confidence is slowly losing the habit of. Sometimes. It can be frustrating to hear someone say sorry every five minutes just as it can be frustrating to feel guilty about everything, including the weather or any other random uncontrollable event.
I can understand that perhaps in this day where people feel that it’s dog-eat-dog and where a little humble pie long went past its sell by date parents maybe sometimes feel that they’re weakening their child but the article explained that it’s about empathy, appreciating someone else’s position, being in their shoes. That can never hurt. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all tried to wear someone else’s shoes for a while? If we could put ourselves in someone else’s position for a bit? With all the challenges and issues that parents face, I can appreciate that it’s not always easy to actively and consciously develop, well I suppose, a policy but shouldn’t good manners be second nature? Shouldn’t teaching our children good manners be second nature?
From there I stumbled on a similar article but this time about teaching gratitude. (I think that this was actually the article that I read). Gratitude is a theme that appears quite often blogs and it does seem to be something that we adults sometimes need to work on a little, to cultivate in our lives. After all gratitude is a little more than a token thank you. Modern life often promotes perpetual dissatisfaction in that constant pursuit of better, faster, newer, more. Do we encourage children to be appreciative? And do we only encourage children to be grateful for material rewards?
I found the articles thought-provoking but I didn’t mean to blog about them. What brought them back to mind was a little episode in the supermarket today. It made me sad because I suddenly realised why we have such a self-focussed and ungrateful generation growing up before our eyes. It is our fault. What are we teaching our children by our words and our example?
Join me in an aisle of my local supermarket. There is a mother with probably three children, I was looking at cleaning bargains at the time and after hearing, I didn’t want to stare too hard. The mother is fairly smart, has possibly been to work during the day and the children are in various school uniforms (which is normal in this country). I would estimate them to be middle-class.
The daughter is saying something about buying something for someone.
The mother’s reply is loud and clear, almost angry, which is why their conversation caught my attention in the first place, and is delivered as she marches down the aisle with her back to the children.
She says, I cannot quote but only approximate an abbreviated version: No, I’m not going to waste my money buying anything for your teacher. They get paid quite enough already.
The tone is angry, the voice is loud. I would even venture rude as a description.
I am surprised.
I know that in recent years there have been more end-of-year teacher-themed gifts and cards available, surprisingly because it seems that this simple tradition has become old-fashioned. Maybe because of a lack of gratitude. In this modern world anything is game to be marketed and merchandised to high heaven and I quite agree with the idea of not supporting such pointless commercial geegaws, especially when it involves tat and expensive in the same place.
But to discourage gratitude in a child? To a teacher who has devoted countless hours not just in the classroom but in their evenings, weekends and holidays to your child’s development? And sadly, it’s probably the case in too many instances that a child spends more time with their teacher than any one of its parents. What example does this set? What has that child learnt?
It seems perhaps that basic manners along with the appreciation and fellow-feeling that motivates them has gone out of fashion.
Is it a waste of time to show gratitude though? However few pennies there may be in our lives right now, what stops us from getting pen and paper to say thank you? Or to encourage a child to draw a picture or design their own card?
It made me sad, very sad.
What would life be like without please and thank you? And however nice it would be to lead a life without the need to say sorry whilst we’re all imperfect I’d rather continue saying that too. Otherwise, what will tomorrow be like?
(I would like to add that I am not judging this particular lady, her family or her circumstances all of which are completely unknown to me. I merely took an observation at the time which caused me to reflect upon life and attitudes in general. This article is the result of those thought processes).