Character Building - Manners
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IF one would learn something of the home from which a child comes, all that is necessary is to watch him at play and listen to him. If he habitually says "please," and "thank you," if he refrains from interrupting, if he does not squabble and contradict, if he is unselfish, it is easy to see that he comes from a family where good breeding reigns. Rudeness at once shows a coarse home life, and ingrained vulgarity obtrudes itself through the veneer of politeness. Good manners cannot be put on and off at will; they are a growth, and many a baby has them in his degree, while many a man or woman never acquires them in threescore years and ten.
Sometimes it seems as though a boy were born careless. He naturally forgets to wipe his muddy feet, to shut the outer door, to put away his books and cap. It is really essential to say "Don't" to him, for these and many other shortcomings, no less than a thousand times before he learns to correct them. But the "Don'ts" must be said with tact, lest they become nagging, and nagging is almost worse than anything else in the world. He must be told good-naturedly, with humor and wisdom, with small penalties, with appeals to his generosity, with emphasis on his growing manliness, never with fretful complaints of his forgetfulness, or unpleasant comments on the ways of boys in general.
Often when a child has bad table-manners-as most children have-a parent will say: "Rather than have our family meals spoiled by constant correction, we will put up with his ways; when he is older he will correct them himself." But this is a short-sighted and selfish policy. Later in life bad table-manners are hard to correct. It is always necessary to train a child to eat properly when he is young, if he is to learn at all, even though it is a long and tedious process.
A boy should be carefully trained in gentleness toward his mother and sisters. He should give his mother a chair when she enters the room, and open the door for her when she goes out; he should remember her wants at the table, and run up and down stairs for her. He should carry bundles for his sisters and bring them home in the evening, and regard their wishes rather than his own. Those wise old words, "Manners makyeth man," should be instilled into him so that the outward courtesies of life shall seem to him of genuine importance.
Appealing to the ideal of courtesy helps a child to acquire the virtue. The life of Sir Philip Sidney, that "fine flower of courtesy," is a revelation to a boy; Sir Walter Raleigh and the knights of his time; the stories of castle-life in the Middle Ages, and of the little pages and their duties; the biographies of great men who did not despise the little politenesses of life while they were also doing the great things; all these give children an inspiration toward good manners in the best sense.
Good manners, in the best sense of the term, are outward manifestations of a kindly disposition. "The outward forms the inner man reveal." "Love doth not behave itself unseemly." It has often been remarked that the essentials of good manners are the same in a true gentleman whether he be a Japanese, or Turk, or German. Any man or boy who really desires to make those around him happy, who tries to scatter sunshine, and who thinks, will acquire pleasant manners. It must not be forgotten that the kindly word and the considerate and cheering act are the result of thought as well as of feeling.
There is a practical side to this subject that wise parents will not forget in training their children. The man possessed of good manners, other things being equal, succeeds better in business or in professional life than the man whose conduct and bearing are not pleasing. Many a doctor or minister with good manners has reached fame or high position when men more industrious as well as more scholarly, but wanting at-tractive manners, have remained in obscurity.
In this little essay we can give only a few thoughts on a great subject. It is for you, unseen reader, to pursue the topic further. Some one, writing a comprehensive essay on "Manners," arranged the subject under nine divisions, and you might write a brief essay on each of them, even as George Washington, when a mere boy, wrote his famous rules of "Behavior."
The nine divisions above referred to are as follows: (x) "At Home"; (2) "In School"; (3) "In Company"; (4) "When a Visitor or Guest"; (5) "In Public Assemblies"; (6) "Salutations on the Street"; (7) "Politeness to Strangers"; (8) "Trifling in Serious Matters to Be Avoided"; (9) "Obscene, Profane, and Vulgar Language to Be Avoided."
To help you in "thinking out" your own rules of behavior, we suggest the following articles in Volume X of the Library: "Hints for Happiness," " Disagreeable Children, " "A Courteous Mother," " How to Entertain a Guest," " An Agreeable Guest," "Manners in the Home" and "Good Taste in Dress."
Many stories and poems have a direct bearing on outward behavior as well as on the inward feelings from which good manners spring. Youngest readers may read with great profit the following in Volume I : "Pretty Cow," "Good Night and Good Morning," "Toads and Diamonds," and "The Haughty Princess." In Volume III turn to "The Oyster Patties" and "Simple Susan." In Volume IV see "The Monkey's Revenge." For old and young we recommend the biography of "Sir Philip Sidney" in Volume VII.