Why Manners Matter

January 13th, 2009at 07:14am Posted by Eli

Interesting piece in today’s NYT Science Times about the importance of manners as part of the overall maturation/socialization process:

It’s always popular — and easy — to bewail the deterioration of manners…. Sure, certain social rubrics have broken down or blurred, and sure, electronic communication seems to have given adults as well as children new ways to be rude. But the age-old parental job remains.

And that job is to start with a being who has no thought for the feelings of others, no code of behavior beyond its own needs and comforts — and, guided by love and duty, to do your best to transform that being into what your grandmother… might call a mensch. To use a term that has fallen out of favor, your assignment is to “civilize” the object of your affections.

My favorite child-rearing book is “Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children,” by Judith Martin, who takes the view that manners are at the heart of the whole parental enterprise. I called her to ask why.

“Every infant is born adorable but selfish and the center of the universe,” she replied. It’s a parent’s job to teach that “there are other people, and other people have feelings.”

(…)

[O]ne of the long-term consequences of being a rude child is being a rude adult…. There are bullies on the playground and bullies in the workplace; it can be quite disconcerting to encounter a mature adult with 20 or so years of education under his belt who still sees the world only in terms of his own wants, needs and emotions: I want that so give it to me; I am angry so I need to hit; I am wounded so I must howl.

I like Miss Manners’ approach because it lets a parent respect a child’s intellectual and emotional privacy: I’m not telling you to like your teacher; I’m telling you to treat her with courtesy. I’m not telling you that you can’t hate Tommy; I’m telling you that you can’t hit Tommy. Your feelings are your own private business; your behavior is public.

But that first big counterintuitive lesson — that there are other people out there whose feelings must be considered — affects a child’s most basic moral development. For a child, as for an adult, manners represent a strategy for getting along in life, but also a successful intellectual engagement with the business of being human.

In other words, the acquisition of manners is a proxy for empathy, for the recognition that we are not the center of the universe and that other people actually do matter.  Or, in Freudian terms, it’s like the development of the superego to rein in the id’s base and selfish impulses.  What’s truly frightening is to read that description of unmannered adult bullies and to see how well it fits the people who are running the country right now – the Bush administration and the Republican party literally care nothing for consequences or the well-being of the country, only their own desires and grudges.

For all his disappointing kiss-right-kick-left tendencies, at least Obama has some manners, which will be a welcome and refreshing change.

Entry Filed under: Uncategorized


Contact Eli





Feeds

Linkedelia!

Most Recent Posts

Archives

Categories

Calendar

January 2009
M T W T F S S
« Dec   Feb »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  


Thinking Blogger

Pittsburgh Webloggers

Site Meter


View My Stats *