Manners are perhaps most noteworthy in their absence.
My family and I attended a wedding a few years ago. We arrived in plenty of time to be seated but the small church was mostly full already. The crowd that was waiting for the nuptials to begin chatted and exchanged hugs and pleasantries, as did we.
As the first strains of music filled the air our family quieted down to observe this sacred and significant moment in the lives of people we loved.
To our great surprise there were several pockets of people in the small crowd who did not quiet themselves. After just a minute or two, the seating of the families began, soon followed by the beginning of the ceremony. Amazingly, even as the wedding party was entering to take their places, some of the audience members continued to speak loudly to each other.
There were two ladies directly behind us that literally never stopped chatting throughout the entire wedding ceremony, including the vows. We were treated to a long conversation about everything from the weather to a critique of an annoying family member, to their opinions of the styles worn by the bride and groom.
It was as if they honestly did not know that something important was happening around them. I have witnessed pre-school students who displayed more respectful manners.
Many have found similar experiences in other social settings. Numerous events routinely accompanied by the buzz of chatter that never really seems to stop. When my husband received his first graduate degree, I and my three small children could not hear his name read from the podium for the volume of the voices around us during the graduation ceremony.
Weddings, funerals, academics, athletics, and most things that require any moments of silence or reverence can be diminished by the lack of proper manners. And poor manners can crop up without intention as well; we are all guilty from time to time.
This common experience begs the question, why do we ask for formality or manners in any situation? Should conduct be constrained, does it really matter how we behave?
Yes, it matters.
Manners are social behaviors that protect and build up social relationships. And relationships are the bedrock of life.
When our grandparents were running the world, manners were taught, practiced, and re-enforced in social settings. Poor manners were noticed and corrected. Our elders knew a thing or two about how lives are built.
They knew that manners do more than just achieve quiet when it is needed. Manners promote respect for tradition, sacred events, important transitions, the contributions of others, and life itself. Manners serve and solidify the human experience.
It is likely that the generation that came before mine understood that a person who never learns to be respectful as a child could struggle throughout adulthood with building the relationships that are essential to a healthy, contributing life.
They also knew that manners help to define the categories of our existence and what is significant. We behave differently at a funeral than we do at an amusement park, and the distinction is vital for a person to grow to maturity with an awareness of other people’s feelings.
Manners secure connections between generations. A lack of manners breeds disapproval, and nothing separates the old and young more than contempt for either.
Manners are more than just pleasant; they shape our world and bridge differences in age, gender, race, and opinion. They build within us the framework for mature behaviors. They allow us to successfully disagree and still part as friends. Manners are the oil that keeps the engine of culture running smoothly. Let’s commit to model the manners we know will change the world for the better. Please, and thank you.