The mechanics of manners; 10 points

My children were on school break last week, doing the things teens do; hanging with friends, sleeping late, Facebook, Skype, videos, and sleepovers.

My son had two of his friends sleep over, and were up until 2 AM or so. When they finally headed out the following afternoon, one of the boys said to me, “Thanks for having me over, Mr. Horwitz.” “Sure,” I replied, “Anytime.” The other boy said nothing, and I thought little of it, as most teenage boys grunt, rather than talk to an adult unless forced..

That evening, the first boy called our home, asking after my son, who was not in, then asked to speak to me. My daughter passed the phone with a puzzled look. “Thanks again for having me over, Mr Horwitz,” he said. I again said happy to have had him over, no problem. A couple of sentences, and that was the extent of our conversation. I thought, “Well, good mannered kid,” and caught myself juxtaposing him with the other boy, but again thought, “Not a big deal, teens are teens.”

And yet here I am, now writing about it, because it DOES matter. Manners can be called the “instruction booklet” for humans. No one is born with innate manners; you have to be told how to behave, and learn it from repetition, like anything else worth doing well. When people do have the mechanics of manners, we have the foundation for a civil society. More than even the rule of law, manners get people to cooperate, listen, and behave well (most of the time..).

Emily Post’s definition:

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.

And here are my 10 bullet points for day-to-day manners at work-or elsewhere.

Good manners are when you:

  1. Can put up with those who lack them
  2. Understand the difference between compliments and flattery; how to deliver the former and avoid the latter
  3. Realise the difference between a healthy ego and bragging; the mature and the immature (a healthy ego has already proven the point, the braggart is insecure and reminds you constantly)
  4. Can state your point of view affably, not shove it down someone’s throat to win at all costs..(it’s not a contest; it’s a conversation)
  5. Hold your tongue, and do not say what you want because “you had to get it off your chest” (That’s the “Can we be open?” sort of question which is immaturity masquerading in an adult body..)
  6. Don’t interrupt or finger jab–let it rest (the “winner take all” conversation)
  7. Stop dismissing others below you with a verbal flick of the wrist of “you don’t really know”, or the sarcasm of “Oh, sounds like you have perfect insight–tell me more”, etc (the “I’m smarter than you” attitude which we have all suffered under at one time or another)
  8. Don’t give people the “You must be out of your mind/I can’t believe you said that” look, usually done by those who prey on others below them
  9. Thank people, regardless of who they are or their status. We all swim in the same waters, and no one, but absolutely no one, is above thanking others
  10. Know how to apologise-and damned quickly. And I am not referring to cross-cultural apologies (where it is easily and often done in certain cultures) but the apology needed to get on with work at hand. This alone deserves a blog of its own, as the politics of apology is an important one

In the words of Rabbi A J Heschel, “When I was young, I admired clever people. As I grew old, I came to admire kind people.”

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