Manners Maketh Me Happy

A reward for allergy sufferers... truth and beauty.

Times I have mistakenly prompted an adult to say “thank you” (after years of reminding my children): 2

Times I have watched children order their parents to do things for them: 1,746

Times “being real” is used as an excuse for not being polite: 7,954

I had a really cute professor of Psychology when I was in college. The class was “Personality,” and we did things like analyze our dreams and watch “Harold and Maude” and read The Tao of Pooh. Truly, heading to class each Tuesday and Thursday was an absolute dream. There were office hours with girls (even a few guys!) lining the hallways, waiting to talk to this guru, a true Cult of Personality.

Cool Professor Dude said one thing that stuck with me: “Being nice is highly over-rated.”

Word. As a college student, I thought that truer words had never been spoken.

Now that I’m old, I heartily disagree.

I get what he was saying. I do. But I think we’re at a point where being nice is highly under-rated.

Last week, I called our homeowners’ insurance office; we had to re-do our policy, and we had a few questions. I left a message.

Later that day, the phone rang, and I could see it was the insurance office calling.

“Hello?”

[Butt-dialing-style background noise. Two women discussing something. Rustling.]

“Hello?”

[More background stuff. Candy eating? Nail filing? Talk of what’s for dinner?]

“Heeeeelllllooo?”

Pause. “Ma’am? You’re just going to have to hold on for a minute.”

Huh?

Let me remind you: she called me. I can’t believe it took me that long to hang up, but I was in shock, like when someone says something mean and you think of a great come-back late at night after everyone’s asleep.

She did not call back until three days later.

I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Who knows what’s going on in peoples’ lives? When they cut me off in traffic, I reason that their grandmother might have just died. Or if a clerk is rude at the store, perhaps the person in his line five minutes earlier ranted at him, leaving him rattled and touchy.

But I also find that “being real” has taken the place of good manners. Reality TV and “getting in touch with our true selves” trump good manners, and I have to say that I miss the “pleases” and “thank yous,” the being stoic when life hands you lemons or deals you a bum set of cards.

We went to see Hunger Games in the theater yesterday. I loved reading the trilogy; I loved the writing. I love how Effie Trinkett’s PR/Capitol Mouthpiece character is such a great foil for Katniss. And obviously, manners rank low on the totem pole as you are considering your possible demise. But as a commentary on where manners fit in in our society, Effie scolds Katniss after Katniss may have ticked off some sponsor-types at the Games: “Manners! Manners!” she reminds Katniss.

Ridiculous, we’re supposed to think. In the case of The Hunger Games, perhaps manners are ridiculous. Truth and honor and courage… all noble things. But in our non-Hunger Games world, I’d love it if people could add in a little kindness… and some pleases and thank yous.

One thing my old professor might be discouraged to discover: the proof is in the pudding. He was a really nice guy.

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15 thoughts on “Manners Maketh Me Happy

  1. crubin says:

    It is hard to instill manners in our youth when the most entertaining television and movie characters are protrayed as obnoxious and rude individuals. We laugh at their crassness. But teach our youth manners, we must. If parents don’t do it, who will? One of the highest compliments I can receive is when we are out and about and someone tells me how polite my kids are. They might sass me at home and do the eye roll, but at least they are respectful in public.

    It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! 🙂 Thanks for a great post–a topic I feel strongly about.

  2. jmmcdowell says:

    “Please” and “thank you” are such little words. But they can make a huge difference. Once in a blue moon, I see examples of customers being polite to a sales person and the sales person begins to respond positively to the polite behavior. (It doesn’t always happen, but still. Sometimes it does.) And when I deal with others, I try to be polite, even if they aren’t. Sometimes they’ll calm down and even apologize for their earlier behavior.

    What I don’t understand is when it became desirable for people to be inconsiderate and disdainful of others. But future historians may look back on that point as the real beginning of the end of our society!

  3. Bernie Brown says:

    You said it, Anne! Let’s hear it for manners!

  4. Melissa says:

    AMEN! I am so tired of rude people! Does it really take that much time to say thank you…or hold a door….or smile….or just be nice in general. I went to California to visit my sister and a waitress actually asked me where I was from because I said thank you to her a couple of times and she was surprised. How sad it that? On another occasion, my son was complimented on his manners because he said yes ma’am and held a door. The woman said that it was unusual for “that generation” and thanked me for “raising my son right.” I was floored because it was just common courtesy…which evidently isn’t that common any more.

  5. Every day I pay for something with my credit card. Every day the cashier shoves the receipt at me and says, “Sign here”.

    I have started to say, “Not until you say please.” They look at me like I have a third arm growing out of my chest. Were we really raised that differently? Hell, at this point, I’d be happy if a cashier simply smiled.

    • annewoodman says:

      Yes, it always surprises me when I, as the customer, have to say, “Hi, how are you doing?” to the cashier first. As an ex-waitress, I know exactly how it feels to work with the public day in and day out. Even more reason to be polite and smile!

  6. timkeen40 says:

    I agree completely. Just because a person is having a crappy day or a crappy life for that matter, it doesn’t give them the right to be rude.

    Tim

  7. Tania says:

    You made me laugh at the first line, I sometimes have to control myself from doing that and I don’t even have any kids! I try to remember to say thank you and please to my loved ones and staff even for every day or routine items (those are the ones it is easy to forget to show gratitude). I think I know what he meant by being nice is overrated, if being nice is to avoid conflict on an important manner or you will just turn around and then say negative things behind the person’s back after being “nice” to their face, yup, it is much more productive to not be so nice.

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