The Death of Manners

Once upon a time, people taught their children quaint things like saying “please” and “thank you” and waiting your turn and to not lie to others. We learned as children to hold doors, follow rules, and use nice language when we spoke to others. Robert Fulghum wrote an entire book about how Kindergarten provides us all with basic life lessons that make us civilized.

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Those days, I’m afraid, are over.

On any given day, I see people drive the wrong way in parking lots (or just go right through the spaces, no matter the time of day), drop doors on others, ignore cashiers and sales people while they talk on the phone, and skip the “please” and “thank you” parts of everyday dealings. On Mother’s Day, I actually got into an argument with a loud woman who was using foul language and refused to stop. I asked her if she could please watch her language a bit, and she took offense that I said anything. She countered that she could do a whole lot worse, and offered to demonstrate (in front of my family, in a public place). I was absolutely flabbergasted! I’ve asked plenty of people to watch their language over the years (as a parent, I have that right to do so on behalf of my kids) — never, ever have I ever had someone get angry at me and threaten to use far worse. (Frankly, if it’s a contest, I could probably win. I used to use language that could make a sailor blush, but I had the decency to not spread it around or get angry at families who didn’t want to hear it.)

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But what kind of society are we if we lack the basic manners we were supposed to learn in Kindergarten? What kind of people are we when we consistently choose to ignore rules like which way to drive in the WalMart parking lot? (I actually have had people get angry at me for driving down the middle of a one-way lane!) What does it say about us when we don’t care if we are offensive to others? I’m not talking “safe spaces” here. I’m talking about being able to sit in a Starbucks with your mother-in-law and teenaged daughter and not hear someone at the next table over drop F-bombs and use the Lord’s name in vain.

I see so many things that point to the death of manners — all around me, even here in the south, where I thought manners were a way of life. When we moved here 12 years ago, I had teenaged boys who would hold the door for my young daughters and me. Now, I get dirty looks from people for blocking their way so they aren’t able to drive across a parking lot. Instead of manners, I see rudeness. Instead of kindness, I see selfishness.

And maybe that’s the heart of it all: we have become an extremely selfish people here in America. We want ours first, and you get your own or get the hell out of my face. I have the right to be happy. I have the right to follow my heart. I have dreams that I deserve to fulfill. If you support that, then great. But the moment you stand in my way, I’ll drop you out of my life so I can focus on me. We don’t want to get married, lest that tie us to one place when we want to be free to do and go where we want. We don’t want to have children because that takes away from the things I can do and the places I can go. We don’t want to put others first because “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.”

This needs to stop.

We have this horrible, warped sense of love. We easily tell our friends how much we love that Peppermint Mocha Frappucino, but not that we love them. We call our pets our “babies” and close ourselves off from actual babies that demand an unconditional love like no other. We get tired of our spouses and leave if we’re not being fulfilled by them. It’s all Me First, You Second. But the Me is quite demanding, and we can never be satisfied when we try to fill ourselves up by fulfilling every desire without the sacrifice of opening up and loving another and giving to them first. Second place sometimes never comes.

Manners begin simply: with each of us putting others first. This doesn’t mean you don’t care for yourself, but that you care for others. Giving of yourself is far more satisfying and fulfilling than keeping everything and trying to fill the void inside of you. And when you love someone — really, truly love them enough to put them first — you discover that you want to sacrifice for them. You want to put them first. It’s not a burden because of love. It’s not a hardship because of love.

Right now, we’re suffering in our country from a lack of true love. And that lack of love for others has brought us to the point where we treat others badly because it’s not convenient for us to treat them well. It’s too hard to put ourselves second and give others the love and respect that’s befitting of their inherent dignity. Sometimes I get so frustrated I just want to give up. If you can’ treat ’em, join ’em. But love demands that we do not do this. Love demands that we give even when we face rejection. To turn the other cheek. To work to bring back love and respect and manners, one encounter at a time.

I’ve seen a meme on Facebook that talks about how to know if the person you’re dating is really loving towards you. It suggests that you put your beloved’s name in place of “Love” in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I recommend we start in a different place. Put your own name in the verse.

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Do you live up to the ideal of love? How can you start moving towards it?