A recent post from fellow blogger Joan Druett (World of the Written Word, http://joan-druett.blogspot.com/) questioned whether “thank you” was disappearing from the lexicon. Sad, but it’s probably true.
Once upon a time, when someone gave a child a present, that child was expected to say thank you. If she didn’t, her mother or father prompted her with “what do you say?” and the child would know at once what she had forgotten. It is good manners to say thank you when someone gives you something, or does something for you.
And once upon a time, children were taught good manners. Not any more, judging by the rising tide of stories going around. For example I recently heard of a grandmother who asked whether a parcel had arrived as she hadn’t heard from the birthday boy. Yes, it had. So why no text or phone call? The answer was scornful: what does it matter, no one says thank you any more, kids are too busy these days. Grandma retreated hurt and sad, wondering whether to bother next time.
What does it matter? Actually, a lot. Good manners are more than just please and thank you. They are the social graces that smooth our way through life, make people more comfortable with each other, and are essentially based on kindness and thoughtfulness. Good manners are not dependent on trends, or on learning some artificial set of rules, and they never go out of fashion. There is no excuse for neglecting them.
Ill-mannered children are brats, and they become adults who aren’t great to have around. They aren’t likely to be successful in business, which is based on sound relations with clients, customers and colleagues. They are lousy employers because they think that paying wages absolves them from being pleasant and appreciative. They are disagreeable work-mates because they are inconsiderate and haven’t learned how to co-operate. At home they are terrible partners because they are selfish, insensitive and probably messy eaters. As French novelist Colette observed, shoddy table manners have broken up many a happy home.
To Jonathan Swift, good manners was the art of making people feel at ease. He added that good sense was the principal foundation of good manners, but thought few people had that quality innately. So, manners have to be taught. By parents. At home. As the great Dr Johnson declared, young women [and young men] should “learn about pastry and such things from the housekeeper and manners from my lady”.