Thursday, February 08, 2007


I reminded my daughter yesterday about manners. Not that she had done anything wrong (she hadn't), but I wanted to make sure she remembered that "please" and "thank you" and "yes ma'am" and "no sir" are important parts of adults' vocabularies just like they're important for kids.

Unfortunately, in her case, I'm preaching to the choir.

There are some other people, however, that could take a cue from my children. Manners matter.

Without delving deeply here, because I know better than to blog about work, let's just say that there are people in this world who must have been raised by wolves. Because they never say please, they never say thank you, and when they didn't quite catch what you just said, they respond with a grunted, "Huh?" rather than a, "Pardon?" or something equally, um, word-like.

I don't ask for white gloves here. I'm not suggesting that we return to the world of Miss Crumpet, holding pinkies aloft whilst sipping our tea. I don't need a "How do you do?" from each person who crosses my path.

But is it too much to ask to expect at least a "Hello" or "Good morning" or "Go to hell" if someone barges into your office expecting to see someone else, instead of demanding, "Where's ______?"

I can't even blame it on Yankee transplants. These people are born and bred Southerners. Who should know better. As we liked to say in Mississippi, "No home training."

In a different decade, I worked at an art museum which frequently had special guests for exhibit opening celebrations. One exhibit, it the planning of which I was intimately involved, was of Victorian and Edwardian fashion. (The dresses were lovely.) Our guest speaker, who also attended the gala premier, was Judith Martin, also known as "Miss Manners."

I was delighted, if a bit nervous, to meet her. In junior high, I read the entire volume (about 600 pages) of Emily Post's Etiquette. A little light summer reading. (It's now 896 pages long.)

She was charming and delightful, not a bit stiff or stuffy or intimidating. And in her talk the next day, she discussed the importance of manners. Not eating with the right fork or folding napkins manners, but the art of making other people feel comfortable. In simplest terms, being nice. Sure, she said, society is a bit more civilized when we agree to abide by arbitrary rules like driving on the right side of the road or stopping at red lights or eating with forks. But the most important thing in etiquette is remembering that your actions have an impact on others. What kind of impact do you want to have? Do you want your co-workers to go home complaining about what a b!tch you are? Do you want your children to learn rude and lazy habits? Or do you choose a gentler path?

Many polite people never hear praise for their efforts. Doing the right thing is often not punished OR rewarded. I'm fortunate, in a way, to have co-workers who recognize that my style (being nice) is preferable to other folks' style (not being nice). And they do give me feedback. Which? Encourages me to keep being nice, to keep doing the right thing, even when the "lowest common denominator" behavior seems easier.

As I wrap up, I'd like to give a word of thanks to my parents, who taught me manners and that it was important to be polite. And who owned that book. I probably need to buy my own copy.

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