Stepping off the whitewashed fence post was always thrilling. As a girl, I loved to test my focus and balance by walking on top the board fences that outlined my family’s farm. The first few steps were usually the easiest because the board was securely anchored to the fencepost and therefore didn’t wobble much. As I made my way towards the middle of the board the shaking and flexing became more troublesome and that is usually where I’d end up jumping to the ground and starting over.
It has occurred to me that having a solid foundation, be it a house, or a fence post, or a childhood, makes a great difference in one’s quality of life. One of the cornerstones of my upbringing was manners. We said our prayers of thanks before meals, at bedtime, and whenever we felt particularly blessed. We said, “Please,” and “Thank you,” often and with sincerity. My father always removed his hat when he entered a home or church, and often tipped his hat flirtatiously when he passed a woman. I carry those ideals with me to this day.
When I started dating my current husband, he was a bit amazed that my children—at the time teenagers—always thanked me for the meal before leaving the table. I will admit it was such a part of our normal behavior that it didn’t occur to me that it would be viewed as unusual. As my husband became a part of the family my children also thanked him when he cooked or took us out to eat. It wasn’t an expectation on their part, and they let him know it.
Recently on Kathie Lee and Hoda’s Today show hour, Kathie Lee was telling a story about a book signing she hosted. About one hundred children from the New York area had been invited to hear her read from her most recently authored children’s book, and then received a signed copy. Out of the one hundred children in attendance, Kathie Lee said one child, ONE, said, “Thank you,” as she handed out the books. One. She was furious; I was saddened to the core.
What has happened to our manners and standards? If I received a gift as a child and didn’t let the giver know of my gratitude, my parents would have chewed me up and spit me out. While this sounds like manners by coercion, I don’t feel that way at all. It helped me realize that I wasn’t the center of the world, that kindness and thoughtfulness matter, and that giving—in any way, shape, or form– to others is a precious aspect of humanity worth acknowledging.
Last Sunday we attended an outdoor church service. It gets a bit messy when communion is offered because people squirm up out of their lawn chairs and form haphazard lines. As my husband and I edged our way toward the bread and wine, I noted an elderly man approaching the communion station with halting and shaky steps. Bowing his head, he took off his hat and held it near his heart as he was given the food, drink, and blessing. His were not the actions of a man with complacent expectations, nor was it a rote act. This was a sacred moment between a man and his faith. It reminded me so strongly of my childhood, and my father in particular, that I started to choke up. Removing his hat was a quiet act of respect and manners—an act that is all too rare today—and it touched me deeply.
How do you feel the realm of manners is faring in today’s world? I’d love to know the good, and the not so good, you’ve seen. If a discussion gets going, maybe we can all try harder and things will improve. Thank you!