Apart from the joy in just witnessing my daughters growth from a 19 inch rather helpless infant to the 42 inch bright, beautiful and fully conversant five year old she is today, one of the great rewards of fatherhood for me has arisen from the constant need to revisit and call into question those principles which were ingrained in my own mind during those same formative years. Recently, my daughter has been asking “Daddy, why are there so many rules and why are they always made by the grown-ups?”. “Actually” I said, “There is only one rule: stay safe and healthy. All the other rules are just to help you with this one and that is my job; to keep you safe and healthy.” Once in awhile I am brilliant and I was pretty satisfied with this answer. Still, I am constantly questioning the rules I make and the practices I try to encourage and It supports a lot of real thinking to explain why I think my daughter should do this or that at any given moment. Much thanks to Popeye for setting such a fun example about why iron intake is so important, but for the rest of the billion why’s, it takes some reflection on things we, as parents, have merely assumed for a long long time. Why do I have to clean my room? Why can’t I finish my homework after I play? And Why must I mind my manners.
To be honest, my daughters manners have been impeccable as of late, so pristine in fact that I’ve had to wonder why we regard them so important a tool as to spend all this time cultivating them. My answer? Manners are an advertisement. Advertise-verb: to describe or draw attention to. Manners describe and draw attention to the benefit one gets from knowing us in any capacity. If you are applying for a job these days, you know a well crafted cover letter can be far more important than the contents of your resume. You want the salutation, body, and signature of this letter to reflect not only your capabilities but your esteem for the company and the position you are applying for as well. The details of your qualifications are to be found in your resume. The province of respect however, it is the sole duty of the cover letter to address.
This is the purpose of our manners then. To premise our actions with the promise of respect. Let our consequent behavior define our integrity but let our manners at least start us out on the right foot and get us ‘in the door’. It has been said that ‘ it doesn’t matter what people think of you’ but this statement is quite in need of modification. Better to say I think, that it only matters what certain people think of you. We are a collaborative society, humanity, and it is always to our benefit to cultivate the interest of those who promise to further our goals. Manners then, are also the quintessential social networking resource that help us both identify and make ourselves known to those we should associate with.
I consider myself a musician, a trumpet player, before anything else and I have absorbed several mantras from my teachers. ‘Practice makes permanent’ I will cite for the purpose of this article ignoring others like K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple stupid) that are not so relevant. It is to our benefit to be courteous on line at the grocery store, for example, if for no other reason than that it keeps us in shape to exhibit good manners when it matters most. As a side note, you never know when it matters most and are continually making a first impression. The guy on line behind you could be your future employer or the person who introduces you to your spouse. Practice your manners every chance you get. It is the only way to make them permanent fixtures. I have cracked enough high notes to know this is true.
Give credit where credit is due. It’s only polite. Recently, a waitress (in her 40’s I presume) observed me pushing in my chair after dining at her table. “Your mother raised you right.” she said. Some weeks later, after I held a door open for an older woman she said “Thank you very much.”. “Don’t thank me” I said overcome again by brilliance. “Thank my mother.” It made my day, the opportunity to say such a thing, as I like to think it made that woman’s day to hear it. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
And so my dear daughter, I tell you this. First of all, never start a sentence much less a paragraph with ‘and’ like I just did. And always mind your manners. Are they the key to success? No, those would be oxygen, water and food in that order. Somewhere along the line however, we find ourselves at liberty to act as we choose. Say please and thank you every chance you get. Say may I instead of can I; it will distinguish you. At the very least, with minimal effort you’ll have offended no one. At best, you’ll enjoy a more fullfilling life by noticing and being noticed by those that practice the simple discipline of manners. Now will you please clean your room. I am afraid that you will trip on one of your toys and hit your head on the bookcase.