Are manners a thing of the past? In the current climate of ‘anything goes’, do we really need to teach our kids social norms anymore?
Most parents – most people – would still say yes. You’d probably say yes.
There might be some debate about which manners might now be antiquated, but I don’t think society is ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Manners are necessary. Aren’t they?
But do you know why?
A Bad Reason for Teaching Manners
When my kids asked me why they had to learn to eat with their mouthes closed, keep their elbows off the table and hold the door, my answer was anything but enlightened.
“Because it’s important, that’s why. Just believe me.”
Good answer, Mom.
Obviously, I’m not writing a tome on parenting. I’m writing a blog post. I’m not going to get to the minutia of parenting for manners and socially acceptable behaviours.
What I’m going to do is keep it incredibly simple and speak from my own experience.
Growing up, I had the idea that the better you could complete the manners tasks – the faster and more perfectly you could jump through the hoops – the better you were doing at life.
In the relatively many cocktail parties that I attended as a young person, I thought the reason you looked people in the eye when you greeted them at the door, the reason you offered to take their coats, was to score points for your parents.
I was playing a game of ‘See what a good job my parents are doing raising me?’
(Bet you didn’t even know that was a game kids played, did you?)
As a kid, I had it messed up. Somehow, I learned about social norms as if they were the goal, instead of a means to an end. Or, I guess I thought the end goal was the approval gained from having proper manners.
I had no concept that the whole purpose of choosing clothes that conveyed self-respect and respect for your guests, for example, was to smooth the way to getting to know them better.
I guess, if I look deeper, I had simply absorbed a ‘good works’ worldview. If I did well at manners, I would be approved of. And, if people told my parents what a lovely, well-mannered child I was, then I was ‘doing well’.
So, when my kids asked me why they needed to learn manners, I had a hollow answer. Gaining approval was a hollow reason.
Why are manners important? I wondered.
Why Manners are Timeless
Finally, I found an answer, that even many secular thinkers can buy into, in the second half of what Jesus said was the greatest commandment.
Love your neighbour as yourself.
– Mark 12:31
If Jesus boiled our calling on earth down to loving God and loving others, then what our kids really need to learn is how to build relationships; their relationship with God and their relationship with others.
Does God care if I chew with my mouth open? Not in the least. But people do.
So, the answer to why manners are important is love. And love starts with relationships.
No one would want to get to know me if I chewed with my mouth open, went to a dinner party with leftover breakfast on my bathing suit, and never looked people in the eye.
Getting those things right opens the door to relationships. And, if loving our neighbour is part of the most important command, then relationship skills are one of the most important tools.
My point is this. Opening doors, opens doors. Manners either open doors that connect people, or they close them.
And Jesus said, in a round about way, that we’re here to open those doors.