Manners Without Kindness Is Unkind

While our kids were growing up we often asked, “What do you say?” Which was to elicit the correct ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ or ‘I’m sorry’ response. Most parents probably remind their youngsters to say “thank you” or say “please” and hopefully good manners will never go out of style.

CaptureBut manners without kindness seem artificial and insincere. Think: Eddie Haskell or Nellie Olson. Hideous creatures who spoke sweetly but never lovingly. Saying “may I please” and “thank you” are hollow gestures if there is no true appreciation or respect being offered.

I smile (and cringe a little) while remembering a time that our son was guilty of some offense inflicted on his sister. When I insisted he apologize, he declared with exasperation, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” No – he wasn’t sorry. And no – he didn’t feel any remorse. Well maybe he was sorry because he got scolded but no real apology was extended to his sister. So I failed as a parent. I failed to teach him that saying the words without meaning them was wrong. And I am sorry about that. I suppose I should apologize to my kids for focusing on the manners and not the behavior all those years ago but that episode enlightened me. I stopped trying to be so concerned that THE RIGHT WORDS were being used and instead tried to focus on the feelings. Again, in full disclosure, I failed at this more often than I care to remember. But I tried.

Sadly many adults were probably once children whose parents taught them how to use good manners but failed to teach them why to use good manners. Sometimes I encounter folks who are polite and mannerly but just under the surface you can feel the contempt or the disregard that they have for others. The formalities in business and social settings require that we remain civil and courteous at all times but the indifference, the malice, the antagonism, and the prejudice is often palpable.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate good manners, courtesy and respect. At times I’m frightened that in our “me first” society manners have become passé. And the only way to ‘get ahead’ is to ‘jump ahead’. We live in a world where we put our own needs and desires first regardless of who we must step on to get what we want.

Still, politeness with no real consideration intended for the individual is just dishonest. As far as I’m concerned it’s even worse when the insincerity of manners is somehow an excuse for taking advantage of others. A formality that carries no thought of human kindness or attentiveness is just a meaningless action. I know that I am guilty of offering empty manners. I’m certain that I have held the door open or waited my turn grudgingly. There is no doubt that I have casually said “how are you?” countless times without really wanting to hear how anyone was. I say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” robotically, not even making eye contact with the person at the market or service counter. While learning my manners, I may have forgotten the most important thing – kindness.

Kindness doesn’t require undying affection or even mild appreciation. Kindness doesn’t mean that you and I have to agree on anything. Kindness isn’t a guarantee that we will ever be friends. But kindness requires selflessness and sincerity and connection.

Manners are nice but please save the pretty words and just show me that you care. And I’ll try to do the same.

Peace (and you’re welcome),


P.S. Here’s a song to lighten the mood.

Haircuts, Handwriting, Handkerchiefs, and Holding Doors

CaptureI consider myself a progressive. I’m a confirmed feminist (my granddaughters are destined for greatness). I also support women in the priesthood, equal pay for equal work, and look forward to the day that we have a woman in the Oval Office. I champion diversity in my workplace while supporting family leave for women and men. Social justice issues (especially as they relate to women) are dear to my heart and I expect that I will ALWAYS lean to the left. And I think that we can all agree that violence against women is intolerable and shameful.

So why do find myself mourning the passing of certain traditional elements in society?

I still go to a barbershop replete with a barber pole, clippers, straight razors, sports & auto magazines, and the same old guys (yours truly included) that have frequenting the place for 30+ years. I don’t need a stylist or a colorist or a scalp massage. I just want to talk about the weather and local sports teams and get a 15 minute haircut.

It also makes me very sad that many young people don’t have legible handwriting. When was the last time you even received a handwritten note? I love email and texting but sometimes I long for a letter or even a postcard, written in long hand (not printed), addressed to me, and actually mailed with a stamp and a postmark! Do they even teach penmanship in school anymore?

I always carry a handkerchief (not for blowing my nose) but to offer to a lady to dry her tears or to wipe a smudge. No sexist implications here. I was just raised to believe that a gentleman should always have a clean and pressed handkerchief. Thanks Mom!

And when did holding a door for someone become passé? My beautiful wife is just as strong and smart as I am and yet I still want to hold the door for her whenever we’re together and would NEVER step in front of her when walking through a doorway. This doesn’t make me gallant and certainly doesn’t imply that she is weak; just loved and respected.

So what does a well-meaning progressive do in a society that seems to be discarding tradition; abandoning manners in lieu of efficiency or mistaken equality; surrendering politeness in an attempt to be first in all things at the expense of others?

I’m not really sure, but I believe that I can still be relevant and thoughtful. I believe that I can support women’s rights and hold a door. I believe that I can embrace technology and still write the occasional note. Who knows, maybe when one my granddaughters becomes president she will ask Congress to consider mandating that penmanship be taught in all public schools.

I will be there to offer my handkerchief to her when they reject her proposal as antiquated and foolish. And then, of course, I will wipe my own tears.



Miss Manners, Wherefore art thou?

Judith Martin gives advice on etiquette under the pseudonym of Miss Manners. Back in the day, when I actually subscribed to a newspaper, I regularly read her column. Sometimes I was amused by her responses, always delivered in third person. “Gentle Reader, Miss Manners does not approve”. Often I was confused by her archaic approach to modern situations. But lately I find myself longing for the kind of simple courtesy that Miss Manners holds in such high regard.

mannersI recently got home from a business trip. Encountering boorish behavior is nothing new. What’s surprising is that it seems to be more and more the rule rather than the exception. Here’s a sampling of some of what I witnessed:

  • A guy jumped in front of a group of us at the airport parking shuttle bus pick-up (we were huddled together in sub-zero temperatures desperately trying to stay warm and had been waiting in the cold for 15 minutes). As he shoved his way past the rest of us he explained to the driver that he couldn’t possibly wait for the next bus because he had overslept.
  • A lady at the airport security check point insisted her yapping little dog be “treated with respect” – her words. She was demanding this respect from fellow travelers in a very loud and angry voice. Apparently some other passenger had frowned at the aforementioned puppy.
  • A flight attendant told a beleaguered traveler that he would have to gate check his bag because “you people bring too much carry-on stuff “ and “it’s not our job to accommodate all of this!” In fairness it was a very full flight but the poor guy was just asking what he should/could do.

I know that we live in busy world. But can’t we be busy and courteous? Can’t we hurry and still be mannerly?

This is often my own struggle. And my great shame is that I could see myself in each of these individuals – the offenders; not the offended. My impatience, disregard for others feelings, and my self-importance was reflected in each of these actions. I believe that Miss Manners would, more often than not, disapprove of my behavior. What can I do? What should I do???

I’m going to start by remembering that simple courtesy is a luxury I can afford. I should be able get to my destination on time and also be kind to strangers. I believe that I can put others needs ahead of my own and still achieve my goals

 Gentle Readers, I promise to try harder to please Miss Manners.



May I Please Be Excused?

“May I please be excused?” This is what my three year-old granddaughter is being taught to say before she can leave the dinner table.  Also being taught: “please” and “thank you” when appropriate. In addition she’s learning to say, “God bless you” when someone sneezes and “excuse me” for minor infractions such as burping or “tooting” (her word – not mine). Once when asked, “Anna, what are the magic words?” she responded, “Abra-cadabra?” So it’s a work in progress.

I love that her parents are teaching her manners. Deb and I taught our kids manners, too. And we tried to teach them courtesy and civility (sometimes the lessons needed repeating). The fact of the matter is that we wanted well-mannered children that would grow up and become well-mannered adults. And I think we succeeded.

But at times I’m afraid that success in learning how to be mannerly may equal failure in the overly aggressive, “me first” society in which we live. What a sad commentary. It seems that waiting your turn, holding a door (or elevator) for someone, saying “thank you” or “please”, respecting another’s personal space or privacy, or simply controlling the apparent need to “speak your mind” (even if your head is empty) has become passé. 

Is the only way to “get ahead” to “jump ahead”? Must we always put ourselves first? Do we really deserve what we want regardless of who we step on or over to get to it?

I hope not.

Little Miss Manners (and her Mommy)

I’m glad Anna is learning manners. And if it means she will “lose her place in line” because she is courteous or mannerly then it’s probably not a line that she would want to be in the first place.

I believe that she can be competitive and successful and smart and kind without being obnoxious, rude or boorish.

And yes Anna, thank you for asking; you may be excused!