The Best of Manners
CHRISTIANS should have the best of manners. Their genuine love for God and man prompts their gentle, courteous and kind behavior. As Christians they are ambassadors for God and Christ and thus hold the highest station there is in life. This should be reason enough to stimulate them to proper courtesy. But it has pleased God to make of them “a theatrical spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” He has put them on exhibition. Therefore, their lives, with their every action, are under constant observation and criticism. They are living examples to the honor or dishonor of God.
Knowing this the apostle Paul reminds them: “Only behave in a manner worthy of the good news about the Christ”; “doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” Peter tells why Christians must so behave: “Maintain your conduct right among the nations, that, in the thing in which they are speaking against you as evildoers, they may as a result of your right works of which they are eyewitnesses glorify God in the day for his inspection. For the Lord’s sake subject yourselves to every human creation.” This proper behavior is, in essence, good manners. It is the art of knowing how to live with one another in peace. It is that politeness that stems from a love of God and neighbor.—Phil. 1:27; 2:3, 4; 1 Pet. 2:12, 13, NW.
Jesus was the perfect gentleman. Not once did he err in his manners. He practiced perfectly the divine rule of ‘do to others as you would have them do to you.’ Those who watched him, listened to him, heard his words of wisdom, and saw his mighty acts and graceful manner were filled with astonishment. His good manners did not come from rules laid down in etiquette books written by men, but sprang from a sincere heart and by his cultivating and putting into practice from youth the righteous principles of Almighty God, especially His law of love.—Matt. 13:54-56, NW.
Good manners find their roots in the love of God and the love of man. They cost nothing and are worth everything. Manners, strangely enough, are oftentimes timely words fitly spoken. To say the right thing at the proper moment is an art. It must be natural, from the heart, to be beautiful. It must be spontaneous and sincere if it is to be accepted. Otherwise, it will sound flat, insincere, and it will most likely be considered flattery, which is an insult and not a compliment.
“A beautiful behavior is better than a beautiful form; it gives a higher pleasure than statues and pictures; it is the finest of fine arts.” Just as it is possible to be wise without possessing the wisdom of this world, so, too, it is quite possible to be well mannered with little or no knowledge of those rules and forms of worldly books on etiquette, which are at best only a substitute for common sense. Rules of etiquette may change like fashions and are different in almost every nation, yet good manners are the same throughout the world.
SOURCE OF BAD MANNERS
Vanity, a sour disposition, a longing for sympathy, and a want of good common sense are the chief sources from which bad manners spring. Vain people want others to think highly of them, yet they seldom think of others. Their thoughts are always on themselves. Vanity leads to self-consciousness. We must think of others if we are to please Jehovah. To be thoughtful of others, to give attention to their feelings, is the essence of politeness. But an ill-mannered person is often loud, boastful and proud in the praises of himself and his family. Also, ill-mannered is he who boasts of his achievements in business, looks down upon people who are less fortunate than he, and, as a rule, cannot refrain from having his joke at the expense of another’s reputation.
Words are dangerous tools. And Jesus warned his disciples to be careful as to the use of them: “Whoever addresses his brother with an unspeakable word of contempt will be accountable to the Supreme Court; whereas whoever says, ‘You despicable fool!’ will be liable to the fiery Gehenna.” He further added that “the good man out of his good treasure sends out good things, whereas the wicked man out of his wicked treasure sends out wicked things. I tell you that every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day; for by your words you will be vindicated, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 5:22; 12:35-37, NW) A Christian who is well mannered will not call his brother a fool, or stupid, or other uncomplimentary names.
Some think themselves so well-born, so clever, or so rich, as to be above caring what others say and think of them. They take their position as a license for rudeness. They are an insult to themselves and those who associate with them. There are others who show contempt for their neighbor in various impolite ways: for example, by not being properly dressed in their presence, by not being clean in body and mind, or by indulging in repulsive habits. Paul warns Christians not to associate with such, because “bad associations spoil useful habits.”
It is difficult to judge the quality of an egg by its outward appearance. So too, it is not wise to judge people too much by their external manner. Many men have little to wear, others have ill health, some are oppressed and depressed. Nevertheless, we cannot expect people in general to take time to see whether we are what we seem to be. Everyone can be clean. We can speak right things from the heart. We can be friendly, hospitable, kind and courteous. We can be ourselves. We can be honest and polite. These things do not cost anything. They are free. They are for everyone to have—the rich and the poor alike. It is foolish for one to “freeze up” or to roll himself into a prickly ball on the approach of strangers. A Christian must be a conversationalist. He is a talker. He loves people.
GOOD MANNERS TOWARD ALL
A well-mannered man is courteous to all kinds of men and under all conditions. He is respectful to his “inferiors” (children, mentally ill, less fortunate, etc.), as well as to his equals (his brothers) and those he regards as his “superiors” (servants in special capacity, rulers, kings and governors). His good manners are not reserved for the few who can pay for them, or who make themselves feared. Like the warm summer sun his kindness and courtesy are for all alike.—1 Pet. 2:13-20.
While it is common practice to treat strangers with more courtesy than friends or family, surely they do not deserve any more in the way of good treatment than those whom we love, do they? Our family and our associates should be even more entitled to considerate treatment than outsiders. Some think good manners are a coat that you put on when you go out to visit with people. But a truly well-mannered person is one who behaves properly all the time.
The place to teach and to learn the best of manners is in the Christian home. A family is a delicate machine whose parts are in intimate contact with one another. Only expert lubrication can keep it in smooth running order. Knowing how to be helpful and courteous, pleasant and polite will go a long way to make a happy home. Learning how to say the accepted, everyday expressions of courtesy and consideration will do much to eliminate destructive friction in our associations. These are little words with big meanings. Everyone can say them properly. They cost us nothing, but with them we buy friends. If we practice good manners daily they will not leave us when we need them most, that is, when we are away from home in public.
For example, during a recent assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses a somewhat antagonistic stranger milling through the crowds bumped into a witness. The witness, regaining his balance from the jar, smiled and apologized. The stranger was dumfounded, for he knew it was his fault; yet it was the witness that apologized. The stranger later remarked that it was this courtesy that caused him to think and consider the truth of God’s Word. He is now one of Jehovah’s witnesses himself.
Another case reported, illustrating the need for being kind and courteous, came from a stranger. Jehovah’s witnesses were in the vicinity for an international convention and traffic congestion was great. This stranger was trying to cross the main highway but the solid line of cars would not let him through. Seeing a car approaching with a sign identifying its owner as one of Jehovah’s witnesses, he said to himself, ‘I wonder if these people are as kind as it is said they are. Will he let me by?’ To his pleasant surprise, the car stopped and let him through. There is a great need for such kindness in this old world and our politeness is not overlooked by it.
Said the Dunellen (N. J.) Weekly Call, July 23, 1953: “We are going to miss those Jehovah’s witnesses when they are gone. . . . Those folks seem to be the cream of the country when it comes to politeness, courtesy, and a few other things that most of us neglect these days. . . . Those folks are just as polite when they are back of a steering wheel as we are when we are in a hotel lobby, and that is something.” An editorial in The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), July 28, 1953, had this to say about them: “They are a splendid people who are growing in numbers and influence. And wherever they go they are welcome. By their behavior they create such goodly opinion that they are urged to return.” A Christian’s behavior is either a credit or a discredit to the good name he bears. It honors or dishonors God and Christ.
A sure test of one’s good manners is when he eats. Does he know when to begin? How to begin? What to say and how to say it? How to eat in accord with the custom of his country, in the way that is accepted there as polite? When to stop? A Christian’s mealtime is a time of joy, a time of association; it is a happy occasion. It is not bound by a long list of ridiculous rules, nor is it disorderly. It is a cheerful time when all are helpful and considerate of one another.
After the prayer is said, the food is to be eaten. No one grabs for the food. They politely help themselves when their turn comes. The amount of food to be taken does not depend on the size of one’s appetite, but the size of the family and the amount of food on hand. A very ill-mannered and greedy person will take more than he can eat or take a large portion and leave others with little or nothing to eat. Eating in a way offensive to others, disregarding rules of proper eating customs of the country you live in—all these violations done in the privacy of one’s own home cause one to commit errors when in company and evoke such remarks as, “He has poor manners for a Christian.” A Christian must stand above reproach.
IN APPEARANCE AND SPEECH
It is courteous to try always to look neat. If you are well groomed and always tidy, you speak well of yourself and of your associates. You are showing love and consideration for others. A person observing you may have no opportunity to speak to you, but he will never forget that you were (if you were) pleasing to the eye. A friendly greeting, whether it be a handshake or an embrace or some other customary greeting, and a smile go well with any style of dress that we might wear.
Profanity does not add to one’s Christian growth, nor do slang expressions. Vulgar expressions are becoming common. Words once used only by degenerates are now used by some persons in all grades of society. Christians must guard against such. Paul counsels: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every kind or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people, neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming, but rather the giving of thanks.”—Eph. 5:3, 4, NW; Col. 3:8.
IN THE CONGREGATION
When attending a congregational meeting, it is ill-mannered to come late. By being courteous we shall be considerate of the speaker and the congregation. Mothers with children will find it more convenient to sit toward the rear of the hall and near the aisle, so that when the children may find it necessary to leave it will not be so distracting to the speaker or those in attendance. At no time should favoritism be shown to those who may be rich or influential in the world. There must be no partiality because of race, color or nationality. Whispering or giggling during a lecture is distracting to your neighbors. A congregational meeting is where people come to learn, to worship and to serve. Here of all places manners should be at their very best.
In this world starved for kindness, for a little courtesy and politeness, let Christians be found generously casting their deeds of hospitality and good manners upon the waters, because so much of it does return. And the casting in itself is so pleasant and easy and inexpensive. It is so easy to smile and to be agreeable, and even to do the small, kindly things, that there is no excuse for not doing them. And, besides, it is these little kindly things we do each day for one another that promote the beauty of living for everyone.
It must be remembered too that in different lands there are different customs for the people and whatever is polite and becoming is always acceptable. We are not narrow-minded in these comments nor do we mean to say that the way of living in one country must be followed by all Christians in other countries. If all use the spirit of a sound mind they will be kind in their actions to all persons.