Young People Ask . . .
Why Should I Have Good Manners?
WOMEN rudely pushing ahead of others in mad scrambles for bargains at department stores. Men jamming themselves in ahead of others as they enter an elevator. Young folks virtually shoving aside elderly and infirm ones as they walk down the street. You have probably seen such displays of bad manners.
An article in Newsweek magazine once claimed: “In more and more adults, whatever manners they once possessed have been eroded by the sheer pressures of daily living: crowds, noise, brutality on a massive scale in life, on screen, in print . . . [These] have murdered [manners].” This wholesale murder of good manners is particularly noticeable in large cities. New York City’s subways, for example, have been called a “Tragi-Comedy of No Manners.” Pushing and shoving seem a part of the unwritten law of subway “etiquette.”
Interestingly, though, some youths seem genuinely concerned about this problem. In fact, a popular teen magazine even ran an article by a writer who calls herself “Miss Manners.” Nevertheless, perhaps you have asked yourself if having good manners is worth the bother. ‘How will improving my manners benefit me?’ you may wonder. ‘What’s the point of saying “please” and “thank you”?’
Good Manners—Why So Important?
There’s a saying, “Little things mean a lot.” Good manners are like elements such as cobalt, molybdenum and boron. Although mere traces of these elements appear in our food, they are absolutely vital to our health. Likewise, your mother may use just tiny amounts of flavoring extract or salt when making your favorite dish. Yet these “little things” are what make her cooking efforts a success. Good manners are like the oil and grease that keep machinery running smoothly.
Manners are thus among the “little things” that make life pleasurable. Think for a moment: Do you not enjoy being with a person who displays good manners? Do you not resent it when someone is rude or inconsiderate? If so, recall the famous golden rule, “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matthew 7:12.
But there are other practical benefits to being well mannered. You may, for example, be interested in getting a job. The book Your Working Life: A Guide to Getting and Holding a Job lists several things that will help you make a good impression on an employer. Among them are politeness, good grooming and courtesy. Are you interested in someday finding a suitable marriage mate? In one survey, teenage boys were asked what qualities they found attractive in the opposite sex. Being “considerate of others” rated quite high. In yet another survey, teenage girls were asked to describe the “perfect husband.” Surprisingly, only 30 percent of the girls polled considered looks important. Far more important to them was that a future husband be considerate.
In view of all of this, it is no wonder that Amy Vanderbilt said in her famous book on etiquette: “Only a great fool or a great genius is likely to flout all social grace with impunity, and neither one, doing so, makes the most comfortable companion.”
How, though, do you develop good manners? By spending hours digesting books on etiquette? By memorizing an endless list of rules? Not necessarily, although books and rules of etiquette admittedly have their place. For the most part, displaying good manners is simply a matter of applying basic Christian principles. The apostle Paul thus exhorted Christians to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” or as the footnote of the New World Translation (1960 edition) renders this verse, “imitate the manners of the Lord.” (Romans 13:14) Christ was considerate of the feelings and needs of others. (Compare Matthew 15:32.) He was appreciative of the efforts of others. (Mark 14:3-9) Because he was “mild-tempered and lowly in heart,” people found association with him a ‘refreshing’ experience.—Matthew 11:28-30.
You, too, can cultivate a Christlike, unselfish concern for others. How? By reading about and meditating on Christ’s life course. A person who puts Christ’s teachings into action will rarely be criticized for displaying poor manners.
Still, in certain situations you are expected to conform to specific rules of conduct. The apostle Paul, for example, gave the young man Timothy pointed direction so that he would ‘know how he ought to conduct himself in God’s household.’ (1 Timothy 3:15) Your parents can give you similar instructions.
Now, not all youths see it that way. Young Jordy complained: “My parents think I should act the way they act. They say, ‘Behave, behave,’ and I say, ‘I don’t care, I’m acting the way I want.’” But we cannot always do what we want to do. Parents usually recognize this and are thus anxious that you learn good manners. That is why they may make certain demands upon you.
For example, they may require that you keep your room clean. (Sad to say, some parents have just about given up in this regard, like the one who said, “He can have his room any way he wants it, but he has to live in it.”) Concerned parents know that your room is a reflection on you. What would others think of you if you invited them into a room that was dirty or littered with garments? Your parents also realize that one day you might have a place of your own to take care of. What kind of care will you give it? Responding to your parents’ direction in such matters is, therefore, an important step in learning good manners.
Putting Manners Into Practice
Now let’s consider just a few situations. Do you carelessly throw trash on the ground or do you wait until you can deposit it in the proper receptacle? Many feel that a little more trash thrown around will make no real difference. But look at what is happening to the cities, rivers, public parks and picnic grounds! Trash and pollution are everywhere. Ask yourself, ‘Do I find pleasure visiting places that have been ruined by thoughtless, unmannered people?’
At times youths engage in yet another type of pollution—filling the environment with foul language. Some youths seem to delight in speaking obscenities. And this I-don’t-care spirit can easily rub off if you are not careful. Really, you do not have to permit unmannerly people to influence you. You can instead apply the Bible’s advice: “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth.”—Ephesians 4:29.
What about driving? Whether you ride a bicycle or drive the family car, road manners are important. The road hog not only is an irritation to others but is also a safety hazard. Impatiently driving at breakneck speeds is also hazardous. An article in Grit some time ago reminded youths that “car crashes are by far the leading cause of death for persons 15 to 24 years of age.” And what is often the cause of these crashes? Continued the article, “More teenagers are arrested for speeding than for any other moving violation.” So obey the rules of the road and avoid endangering yourself and others.
Mealtimes also present opportunities to display good manners. Some youths start eating before a prayer is said. Others greedily consume more than their fair share of food. And while it is good to talk and share experiences, is it proper to dominate the conversation, especially when adults are present?
These suggestions may prove helpful. True, at times you may unwittingly blunder and say or do something that offends. But you can avoid making a bad situation worse by knowing how to apologize graciously. Remember what really can motivate good manners—Christian love. Even in an age where everything else seems to have failed, Christian “love never fails.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
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Good manners include offering help to others