Updated: Jun 24, 2021
We were both exhausted. My teenaged son, Jake, and I had almost completed our trek into South Africa. The journey had taken all weekend, over 23 hours alone of flying time. But, I had one last stop to make before we settled into our deeply rural destination. Being well acquainted with just how daunting transportation can be there, I needed an adapter for my pc so that I could at least let folks at home know we had arrived safely and could hopefully stay connected. Zu said there was a wee shop in a town we would pass through on our way to the mission. My dear friend, Zu, and along with his pal had come to the airport to fetch us.
The wee shop as it turned out was a converted garage. There was one lone chair inside. Jake sat down. I proceeded to make inquiries with the proprietor as to my pc requirements.
“Get up, Boy. Get out of that chair.” I turned around to see that Zu’s friend was admonishing Jake to vacate the chair. He did not say this viciously, but rather very calmly yet firmly and both he and Zu sported huge smiles.
This was Jacob’s first encounter with African manners and respect for elders. Under no circumstances would the youngest ever take a seat in such a situation. Age would always take precedence, and even if I, being the oldest and the guest, did not sit, probably no one would leaving the chair empty, certainly not the youngest, not ever. I must say Jake took it in stride happily devouring all he could about African ways.
You may think this extreme and perhaps more of a cultural more, which it is, regarding how elders are viewed in African society, but it is also about manners ingrained there from a very early age. Jake is African but hadn’t been to the continent since he was a small boy so the men had decided to give him a crash course in proper etiquette. He was ready. He was eager to learn all things African so he welcomed everything new about the customs and formalities there.
But now let’s go way back to my middle son as a toddler sitting in the shopping cart as I was selecting my groceries going up and down the aisles in a local small town Ontario store. Suddenly another shopper ran into me from behind and my young son heard me cry out grabbing my ankle.
“Hey Mister, you ran into my mommy and hurt her,” my indignant young child quickly exclaimed to the man.
These are two very different situations with two children of different ages. My point is that manners are taught according to what we value and respect. My question is, what do we value and respect here in our western culture?
Some older folks are quite verbal about what they perceive as the lack of manners today. However, times are different and sitting up straight, using the correct fork and wearing the proper clothing has become much less important. Frankly, I just wanted my kids to eat with their mouths closed. We seldom had more than one fork to worry about anyway. Formality itself is what has diminished. Gone are the lacy tablecloths and Carson of Downton Abbey measuring out the proper silverware and goblet placements with his ruler.
These folks might argue that people have lost respect and become self-centered…and maybe they have a valid point in some cases. We do seem to be very me-minded. How many times have we heard, “Do what makes you happy”? Now essentially there’s nothing wrong with that as long as no one else gets trampled on while you travel down that road…and maybe that is where we should begin to look at the evolution of etiquette. Yes, it has evolved but certainly not disappeared.
Anything I do that negatively impacts another person or reduces my own self-respect is not OK, the latter often overlooked or underemphasized. In this context I wouldn’t visit the queen or go to a job interview in ripped jeans. Manners teach us to think about others. Therefore, overall, there are many times when I’m not so worried about proper etiquette as I am about kindness and consideration. Simple courtesies display a virtue that says ‘hey, I care about how you feel’ even in a brief moment of passing and I care about what you think of me. For that reason I will say please and thank you and excuse me.
Parents strive to instill the Golden Rule, treating others as you yourself would LIKE to be treated, as their children grow up. However, the first role of grandparents is parent supporters and reinforcers. We need to work alongside our grown children assisting them in the raising of mannerly children following their lead. Children learn by example and then they mimic what they see. So grandparent, make sure you are a kind considerate person. Do the children see you walking with God? Do they see you as loving?
“Early in the morning Laban rose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them.” Genesis 31:55 You have a lot of influence! In 2 Timothy 1:5 we read that Paul reminds Timothy of the godly influence of his grandmother Lois.
Yes, I still enjoy and appreciate it when a door is held open for me or when a young person gives up their seat for me. But if they don’t, it’s not the end of the world. I’d much rather see rudeness and bullying stamped out. Oh, but please put your phone away at the dinner table.