When people talk about manners, we often think about the words, please, thank you, and you're welcome. We also think of proper etiquette, including how to dress for certain occasions, which fork or spoon to use during a fancy dinner, holding doors for people, letting someone go in front of you, carrying an elderly person's groceries, taking your hat off indoors, or how to properly address Kings or Queens. What most people don't realize is that having good manners involves much more. I looked up the definition of manners in the dictionary, and it said;
"Manners are the unenforced standards of conduct which demonstrate that a person is proper, polite, and refined. They are like laws in that they codify or set a standard for human behavior, but they are unlike laws in that there is no formal system for punishing transgressions, with the main informal "punishment" being social disapproval. They are a kind of norm. What is considered "mannerly" is highly susceptible to change with time, geographical location, social stratum, occasion, and other factors."
To understand what manners are, and to learn their importance as one of the important rules for living a good life, you have to learn a little bit about respect. The key to good manners is to respect others, ourselves and the natural world around us.
Consideration for others is the basis of a good life, a good society.-----Confucius (BC 551-BC 479) Chinese philosopher.
To understand and practice manners, we have to realize that manners aren't just words, or how we act in certain situations, but rather how we live our lives every day. It seems that in today's world both respect and manners are slowly, but surely disappearing. I grew up in a household in which yes sir, no sir, and yes ma'am and no ma'am were common practice. To me respect and manners also means treating others like you would want to be treated. It's putting the needs, concerns and problems of others first. It involves listening to those around you. It can also mean things which in our rush through life we forget about like the proper use of cell phones or writing thank you notes when you've received gifts.
The secret to using good manners and learning respect is to keep your eyes open for opportunities, and to practice basic courtesy every day. Maybe an elderly woman where you shop needs help with her groceries or with the return of her cart. Sometimes we're in a checkout line with a hundred items and someone is behind us with two or three. It's so easy to turn around and let them move in front of you. How many times have we seen pregnant women or the elderly standing on buses and subways, and no one will give up their seat? Why isn't a young, strong, healthy person standing up, and relinquishing their seat? How many times have you had a door close in front of you, and almost hit you in the face? Have you ever dropped something, crouched down to pick it up, and seen people obliviously walk by without helping? Have you ever had car trouble or a flat tire, and watched dozens of cars race by you without even a glance?
You may have noticed that many men these days won't hold doors for women, pull out their chairs for them, or wait until they are seated before sitting down themselves. If you go into a restaurant or diner these days you will see men wearing hats, baseball caps, or hoods pulled up over their head's while eating their meals. You'll hear cell phones ring, and people will answer them and then hold long and loud conversations within earshot. People will bump into you in a crowded place, and you'll rarely hear the words, "excuse me," or "I'm sorry." Sometimes I'll be walking and drivers will throw empty fast food bags out of their car windows, or walkers will casually toss wrappers or empty bottles on the ground instead of placing them in nearby receptacles.
In my own life I have tried to practice manners, and show everyone respect. I can tell you this; it's not always easy. I've even had people ask me why I do things like hold doors for women, pick up trash, give up my seats to someone who needs it, stop to help someone even when I'm running late, dress up when I go to church, take my hat off when greeting a lady, or say excuse me and go outside when my cell phone is ringing. I've often thought about why I try to practice good manners.
I think part of it is in my upbringing, and part of it is learning from others, but I guess the main reason is that I've come to realize that what I do becomes who I am. For all of us, our actions are a reflection of ourselves. What we do every day shapes us into the person staring back at us from the surface of our mirrors. Giving up that seat to someone else even when you're tired after a long day means something, not just to the person who could use it, but to you. It changes who you are for the better. When I look in the mirror, I always see an imperfect man who often fails. I inevitably see a man who struggles every day to reach out to others, and become a better person. I see a man who also carries many burdens from the past as well as fears and uncertainties about the future. The most important thing though, is that when my reflection stares back at me, I see a good man. I don't see a great man, but I see someone I like and respect for the effort he puts forth every day as he makes his way through life. Practicing manners, courtesy and respect, every single day is a great way to not only help others, but help yourself as well.
Anyone can be polite to a king. It takes a gentleman to be polite to a beggar.-----Unknown SourceThe most important thing to remember is that manners and respect are the same thing. Holding a door for a woman is a sign, not of any weakness on or her part, but a sign of your respect for who she is. It is also important to understand that manners and respect are meaningless unless we treat everyone with the same fairness, care and concern. Whether it's the President of the United States or a homeless woman in the park; they both deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity.
Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.-----Edmund Burke (1729-1797) British political writer.