Manners are literally a thing of the past. In the old days, manners were the rules that governed society, that informed a banker how he should interact with a nobleman, that told a fishmonger how to speak to his employer, that determined which fork a socialite should use to eat soup and where she should put her napkin. It was believed that society needed rules in order to operate efficiently and successfully, that each man figuring out his own behaviour would lead to chaos and dissolution.
A quick survey of modern cultures will prove they were right. In the United States, people don't know how to answer the phone, what to say to a waiter, where to put their shoes, or when to stop talking. The reason is obvious: having removed standards of behavior, everyone is free (or forced, depending on your view) to come up with their own rules of conduct, and these personal codes are often grievously deficient.
For instance, I (C. Hollis) was getting a cup of coffee the other day at a local coffee shop. The kid behind the counter looked about eighteen; I look a good ten years older than my actual age of thirty. He mumbled most of his dialogue ("Fer here, er t'go?"), and when he handed me the coffee he said, "Here go, man." Then he looked bored. I wasn't offended by this treatment at all, but it did make me a bit sad for the young man.
Good manners, after all, aren't just for other people. By employing etiquette and tact, we learn to see people the way we ought to see them: as more important than ourselves. I doubt that barista was purposefully rude, but his attitude displayed through his manners (or lack thereof) that he didn't really care about helping me, he just wanted me to get out of line so he could help the next customer. And he treated them to the exact same attitude with which he'd favored me.
There's a good chance that the coffee-slinger even thought he was being polite. How was he to know he was breaking age-old customs when no one has ever told him those customs exist? This is an example of postmodernism trickling down to the most common and basic level: it's up to you to construct your own reality, and we aren't going to help you out by giving you any kind of standard to follow.
Christian parents will doubtless want their kids to be polite and considerate, to put the interests of others above their own, and to be friendly and open with others. The best practical way to make these hopes become reality is to teach our children the rules of etiquette and manners. After all, we don't want the world to think we're just as self-centered and lawless as they are; we want to show them a better way, one that glorifies our Lord and attracts the lost rather than repelling them by our rude behavior and self-centered habits.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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