~ "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." Emily Post
~ "A man's manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(Who can forget Veruca Salt- the gold standard of selfishness, and one "bad egg"......)
We attended a banquet a few weeks ago, one that included a large number of kids. When it came time for everyone to serve themselves dinner from the potluck table, to my surprise, the kids were all excused first. Mind you, there was a large number of older folks in the audience, since many kids' grandparents were in attendance.
I was completely shocked to see all of the kids take piles and piles of food, often 3 or 4 of one item, not thinking of the others who had not yet eaten. Sadly, much of this food was discarded, uneaten, later.
Do I think it's unconscionable that adults are expected to wait a few extra minutes to eat? Of course not. Am I horrified beyond belief by wasted food? Not generally. What really bothered me was the assumption (Made both by the kids and many of the adults) that the kids were to be shown deference and respect, and not the older people present. The kids, truly, were thinking of no one but themselves. THAT is what bothered me.
It made me think long and hard about what manners I want my children to posses, and what I am doing to instill such manners. (Here is the obligatory disclaimer- my kids, myself, my family- we're quite imperfect. We mess up. We're rude sometimes. Please refrain from pointing this out as a means of disqualifying my opinions here. I have beliefs that I execute poorly, but I keep trying.)
I feel strongly that my boys should respect those who are older than they are. Granted, this isn't absolute- there are occasions where certain individuals are, for one reason or another, difficult to defer to, but I think that's the exception rather than the rule. We, in our household, have our boys look people in the eye when they are conversing, and refer to their elders as "Ma'am" and "Sir". I do not think those titles are necessary to show respect, but honestly, I have seen the boys (Especially Christopher, as a teen boy) be treated differently than his peers once he calls someone "Ma'am" or "Sir". People tend to treat him more kindly, and with less of the typical animosity that teens usually garner. We are really working on this with Nicholas, too. It is definitely a habit that has to be established, not a natural behavior.
Another big thing for us is gratitude. I guess another way to say this would be "lack of entitlement attitude". We desire for the boys to appreciate the things they have and keep their "wants" in line with reality. We have tried very hard to be as transparent as possible with the boys about our finances and let them know what things are going to be a possibility, within the family budget and our means, when they have desires. This is truly difficult sometimes, especially when it feels like we are depriving the boys of "normal" items- and by that I mean things that all of their friends seem to own or use. It helps, of course, to remember that my goal in parenting isn't to have a minute-by-minute satisfied, ecstatic child, but to eventually have a man who can live in the real world and be content and effective.
Related to gratitude is the above mentioned quality- contentment. I believe this is a huge factor in the execution of good manners. Many times, poor manners stem from a sense of jealousy, greed, etc... all a result of a lack of contentment. I believe the most important way we teach this skill to the kids is by being content ourselves, and acting in a manner that exudes contentment even when the "feelings" aren't there. Like anything else, there's no magic workbook or pill that makes this possible. Just a daily, sometimes hourly or minutely choosing to do the next right thing. Difficult, but immensely valuable.
I guess to sum up, in my opinion, true "good manners" are a result of unselfish, kind, thoughtful hearts. I want to teach my boys the right actions, of course. But most of all, I want the correct actions to flow from a heart and mind that are filled with the right attitude and thoughts. Making myself obedient first, being in constant prayer, and regularly evaluating my methods and goals are essential in this endeavor. (Ouch. I am, more often than not, acutely aware of my failures in this area. But I just keep at it!)
.......like the rest of parenting, leading by example is the first step.