Friday, October 17, 2008

What Ever Happened to Good Manners?

Recently, while walking in the park behind three young mothers wheeling toddlers in strollers , I heard one of them casually remark: "So I said to him, twenty bucks? Jesus, it's only a f***ing pumpkin!"

I can hear her kid in a few years: "Hey Mom, where's my f***ing juice box?" Using foul language in mixed company is commonplace. I hear conversations in public places that make me cringe. What ever happened to good manners?

The "me first" attitude of too many people today diminishes the world in which we live. The little niceties we used to observe seem to be vanishing. Here's an example. Respect for authority is no longer taught to many children.

If a kid misbehaves in school, the parent comes hunting for the teacher's head without ever learning the facts in the matter. Many kids never hear the word "No". As a result, they grow up to become anything ranging from seriously annoying to cold-eyed serial killers. Hint: A well-timed spanking will do more than 50 time-outs.

Etiquette used to be taught in schools. Simple courtesies like holding doors open, giving your seat to an elderly person, even social skills like how to set a table, or make an introduction reminded us that consideration for others was something that was expected of us. We need to get back to that.

People today seem to have the attention spans of moths. They are too busy either jabbering into their cell phones, surfing on their laptops, or engaging in some other self-centered activity to even notice there are actually other people around, much less act with any consideration for them. In a typical day, you might be asked to deal with the guy who guns his car in front of you as the light changes; the thoughtless loudmouth who asks when you're going to start having kids; the customer service person reciting moronic, memorized platitudes.... it goes on and on.

Modesty in dress is another breach of good manners. I see women today showing more cleavage in church than most husbands in my day saw on their honeymoons! I see 200 pound women wearing Spandex pants! Don't even talk to me about Speedos. "Casual" has come to mean wearing your pajama bottoms to Waldbaums. Look at any old movie or TV show and notice how the people were dressed. Women wore dresses or skirts and blouses, men wore suits and ties, and I'm not talking the wealthy or business class, but everyday folks. I know we'll never get back to that, and that's OK, but there must be some middle ground.

I stopped at Burger King the other day to buy a dangerously unhealthy breakfast. The manager had set up shop at a rear table and was interviewing young people for jobs. One kid was wearing a heavy metal t-shirt and cut-off jeans, another a doo-rag with his pants falling off his behind.... you get the picture. People just don't care how they look. For my first job interview as a low-level bank clerk, I dressed like Gregory Peck in "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit."

I know, I know, I'm just a cranky old man who's bothered by everything. That's probably true, but nonetheless, that doesn't make my point any less valid. Parents, instead of worrying about what brand of sneakers your kid is wearing, or if his computer or plasma TV is the latest model, teach the little heir some manners. All the crap we buy them does not compensate for failing in our responsibility to pay attention to what kind of person they are becoming.

If you think manners are no longer important, think again. They affect how others perceive us, and tell others about how we perceive ourselves.

Children's Craniofacial Association

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