The Child's Manners
( Originally Published 1916 )
IN general girls are likely to accept the fashions in manners that they observe about them, just as they accept fashions in clothes. But every boy who amounts to anything must, at some time or other, question in his own mind the sense of the formal observances that his mother and aunts label " good manners."
For most girls it is sufficient to present good models and to tell them from time to time what are considered proper manners. But the spirit of the young male rebels against what is formal, and it is, for this reason, a more difficult task to teach manners to boys than it is to train girls in habits of courtesy and good form. The girl wants to be shown a pattern; the boy wants to be shown a reason. This difference between boys and girls must be recognized by the mother who is concerned with the manners of her children.
We are so apt to think of manners as arbitrary devices that most of us are not very enthusiastic about demanding them of others. Even among those who observe the conventions through habit, large numbers have a lurking feeling that many of the usages are empty forms, that many of them involve a great deal of hypocrisy, and that on the whole we might perhaps be better off without them.
Indeed, the hypocrite has done' much to discredit good manners by employing them for his own selfish purposes. But we must learn to distinguish between the virtue of a tool and the motives of those who use it.
No doubt many of the conventions that cling to us in our daily actions have lost any meaning they may ever have had. And if manners are only meaningless conventions they are obstacles to human inter-course, and we should do all we can to get rid of them. But, on the whole, Emerson was right when he said: " Manners aim to facilitate life, to get rid of impediments, and bring the man pure to energize. They aid our own dealing and conversation as a railway aids traveling—by getting rid of all avoidable obstructions of the road and leaving nothing to be covered but pure space."
If we can convince ourselves that good manners represent what efficiency engineers call " standard practice "—not in the sense that they are the accepted usage, but in the sense that they are the usage which experience has shown to be the most effective in certain relations—then we shall be able to put more spirit into the forms. We shall look upon good manners not as a symbol of the ability to afford a high priced governess, but as a symbol of a wholesome attitude toward others.
New situations are always arising, and if we depend entirely upon the formal rules that a child can memorize we shall be far from attaining the end of our striving. The only kind of politeness that will wear is the kind that expresses sincere reverence and kindness and sympathy and consideration in due proportion. A boy's stepping aside for an older person to pass will have meaning to the end of time.
Children learn much of their manners from the ex-ample of those they see on the street, from their teachers and fellow pupils in school, and from the heroes and heroines of their readings. But they get the largest and perhaps most lasting impressions in the home. It is remarkable to what extent the manners and mannerisms of children reflect the habitual attitude of their parents, or at least, the habitual conduct of their parents. But most parents have attained an age at which it is almost impossible to acquire new habits and manners, and if we are to do anything with our children we must be constantly on the lookout against our own shortcomings.
Some parents are with their children at meals more than at any other time and table manners come to be fairly representative of the family manners. In his book What Is It To Be Educated? C. Hanford Henderson devotes a great deal of space to the subject of table manners and of the meal generally, because of its high educational importance. He says : " The act is repeated over a thousand times a year, and for that reason alone would be quite worth idealizing. In addition our table manners give color to the rest of the day's doings, and become a significant element in the conduct of life. . . . When you show a boy that true courtesy, true manners depend upon a nice consideration for others and are a part of the respect which a gentleman owes to himself—noblesse oblige—you quite easily win him over to your side."
In addition to cultivating the feelings that express themselves in good conduct, in addition to showing boys that manners really have a genuine meaning, we should make politeness natural to children by our own conduct toward them. Children are constantly making blunders and doing things that merit disapproval, to say the least. But if we show as much patience and consideration in correcting them and in reproving them as we expect ladies and gentlemen to show each other in discussing a subject on which they do not agree, we shall do much toward making of these boys and girls well bred men and women.