While you were growing up, did it seem like your parents were constantly reminding you of your manners? “Mind your Ps and Qs.” “Don’t chew with your mouth open.” “Don’t put your elbows on the table.” “Wipe your mouth.” “Stop interrupting.” Ad nauseam.
More annoying than my parents harping on me is the sound of my own voice harping on my kids.
But this training is important, isn’t it? Manners are how we express courtesy, civility, kindness, and hospitality to the people around us.
I read an article recently that encouraged me to stay the course. I need not nag, but I must remind. These aren’t rules so much as gifts.
“As Christians, we can recognize that acting with civility essentially means acting with love and charity. If motivated by humility and sincerity, manners should stem from a conscientious effort to act in accordance with our faith; they should encourage us to ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’
In Anne of Green Gables, this is exactly how Marilla explains etiquette to Anne when Anne questions the appropriateness of certain actions ahead of a highly anticipated tea party. ‘The trouble with you Anne, is that you’re thinking too much about yourself. You should just think of Mrs. Allan and what would be nicest and most agreeable to her.’
As many do, Anne was thinking of manners as rules and personal restrictions; Marilla recognized that good manners are best understood as gifts of thoughtfulness given freely to others. Keep your elbows off the table–so that you don’t crowd your neighbor. Don’t chew with your mouth open–because it’s unappealing and diminishes the dining experience of others. Write a thank you note–to acknowledge with gratitude the generosity and thoughtfulness of a giver. Having manners is not about operating within a set of narrow constraints or exalting oneself in a show of superiority. Having manners is about humbling oneself to make others more comfortable–even in the smallest ways….[If] having manners makes us proud, the purpose has been defeated.”Leigh Lowe, “Civility and Civilization” in The Classical Teacher (Spring, 2021), 74.