Manners and kindness.
Manners and kindness are examples of one’s value system. These are behaviors, which are our values in action. Manners and kindness aren’t the same, but they are related. Good manners and being kind to others never goes out of style.
Some may remember when there used to be classes and schools to teach us how to behave, social customs and proper manners. There were even experts who had newspaper columns and wrote books on the subject. Our society seemed more focused on social customs. At least it seemed that way.
Where do we learn manners and kindness? Predominantly from our environment, and usually it is from our family. Sometimes it comes from our faith, sometimes from our school, sometimes from the culture we see or from other influences around us. Usually it the where we spend the most time from those yielding the most influence with us. Again, our families.
My grandsons are normal boys with a lot of energy but generally well-behaved. Their mother often reminds them to say please and thank you when they forget or are around people they don’t know. Parents and grandparents are at the forefront of teaching and reinforcing manners and respect.
In a typical day, how often do we see examples of manners or kindness? When someone lets us cut into traffic on a busy street? As we approach a building and someone holds the door open, or holds the elevator for us? When someone greets us with a smile and asks how we are doing (not the plastic, “Hi, how are you?” version). When we fumble with something in our hand, if falls to the ground, and the person next to us picks it up and hands it to us? Maybe when the waitress brings us extra dressing or napkins without being asked? When our neighbor has picked out waste containers out of the street and set them next to the house? When our postal delivery person brought the package to our door without cramming it into the small mailbox? Our daughter gives us a hug for no reason? A neighbor calls because our porch light is out and inquires if everything is okay?
These make up for the angry person who cuts us off on the highway or the person who is unusually demanding in the food line or the person who talks through the movie or the person in the car next to you playing music to rattle your brains or the person in the elevator with a distinctive odor or the person who takes up two parking spaces.
We invented the phrase, random acts of kindness, for when people do nice things that should be a natural course of action. We even give awards to recognize someone going out of the way for exemplary service. It is unfortunate that we have to mount a campaign to encourage kindness but it that works, I’m all for it.
Here is a great example of kindness.
Please and thank you. Simple words. How do they get into our vocabulary and actions? I looked back on my own life. Not that I’m the poster boy for politeness, but I wondered where my cues and reinforcement came from. Here’s my theory.
It doesn’t have to just come from your family, but we pick up cues from the adults, just like by grandsons. I watched other people, I saw how people reacted to good manners. I liked that. Treating others with respect, I got that from the world around me. I saw injustice and I saw kindness. I looked around my own little world and I saw both examples. Inside me, I knew right from wrong. I knew how it felt. This was the time of the civil rights era, and the beginning of women’s rights; I believed that everyone was entitled to respect. It must have made sense to me. Being kind and respectful is right; rude and disrespectful, wrong. Simple.
I learned at school too; good examples as well as bad. I once had a teacher who epitomized meanness as a teaching aid. Even though students react to kindness and nurturing, her experience was bullying and physical threats. Most teachers are very kind and supportive, they do not tolerate disrespect or bullying, and they usually model the behavior they want to teach. Teachers have a lot of influence on kids and they did on me.
The careers we choose do both reflect and influence our values. In my early years, I interacted with the public daily and I always kept in mind that my role was to serve them, treat everyone with respect, and be a good steward of public resources. I now supervise folks who interact with the public and the notion of good service is never far from my mind.
The other area of influence were those I picked as my friends. From the time of my earliest memories, I associated with kids who seemed to have good values. Nice guys as we were known. Of course, I got into my share of trouble, but nothing was hurtful or malicious towards others. Sometimes I chose wrong, and that friendship did not last long. I picked good people to be around; they were polite, boys with good ethics, who had good support systems, and that resulted in positive relationships with me. Many of those friends are still in my life, although we are scattered across the globe.
Our personal values are shaped at a young age, mine were, but they have grown and deepened with age and experience.
Do people change over time? Yes, they can. Do their values change? That’s a good question. Some people become jaded and cynical, who feel that the world has wronged them, or they focus their anger on certain people, or groups of people. Their attitude is dark and they are quick to blame or feel put upon. With social media, the ease of finding compatriots and examples that reinforce this darkness, intensifies this attitude. Conversely, life can present you blessings or opportunities that bring more light into your being and kindness spreads outward like ripples of goodness.
Many people are influenced by their faith organizations or their religious beliefs. I find a lot of contradiction in this area. For some, the influences are very positive. For others, religion can be the basis for hypocrisy, hate, exclusion, greed and discrimination. I would prefer to focus on the positive things like love, kindness and understanding.
When I am at a restaurant I constantly thank the wait staff for their service. On the infrequent occasion when the food is sub-par or the service is lacking, I will not hesitate to point that out to management. I will also make note of exceptional service and pass those comment along as well. You can give critical feedback without a meltdown, and feedback is how we learn and grow.
Saying “please” and “thank you” is a good thing but there is much more to manners and kindness. Opening a door or displaying a smile to a stranger is not a substitute for being humble and genuinely kindhearted. Good manners can be faked; it is what a person does when no one is watching or there is nothing to gain that truly reflects one’s character.
As complicated as people can be, please and thank you often say a lot about who we are.