Reserve About Private And Personal Matters
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE pretty prattle of little children is winsome and attractive, but it is sometimes inconvenient and perplexing. A casual caller was invited to stay for luncheon. When soup was served, a little girl of six who sat at the table said to the visitor, "We never have soup except when we have visitors, for mamma says we can't afford it."
The unguarded speech of little children is not only trouble-some, but it is sometimes dangerous, for designing and dishonest people take advantage of it and often find out the treasured secrets of a family.
The careful and observant mother must begin very early in trying to make a child practise delicacy in mentioning its physical needs and ailments. But most children are six years old before they can be made to understand that it is the sign of good breeding not to talk to outsiders about things which are purely private in their interests, and perhaps only suitable for the family doctor and the mother. Reserve in all such matters should be enjoined.
As soon as children can distinguish their right hand from their left they should be taught reserve, which is but another name for self-restraint and self-control. The old proverb, that a little child should be seen and not heard, still holds good.
The habit of thinking aloud grows with years, until it assumes the garrulity of old age. Nip it in the bud. Begin at the fountain-head. Begin with the child. No locks, no bars, no bolts can secure the sacred privacy of a family so long as reticence and reserve are not practised by every member of it. Some people are too old to learn, but you can begin with the little children and create the habit in the process of years.
No other creature in the universe has the power of reserve. It is the privilege of the human family to cover or conceal their thoughts when necessary. A decent gravity of expression may cover anger. Tenderness may hide itself be-hind compressed lips. Exultation may bury itself under downcast eyelids. A moment of joy may shelter itself beneath the wrinkles of the brow. There would be no absolute necessity for this reserve if the world were honest, but it is not; and it is a great and somewhat unusual gift to be able to conceal the emotions, bury the feelings, and master the passions. A great deal has been written on the silence and reserve of Jesus of Nazareth, who knew what was in man.
The habit of self-restraint can only be acquired in the course of years, but a child is never too young to begin to learn its first principles, when taught either by example or precept, or by both. Among the cultured nobility of every race, and indeed among savages, this reserve constitutes the basis of good breeding.
When in the society of strangers, little children should not speak until they are spoken to, and in all cases their replies should be restrained and dignified. But their manner should be perfectly natural. Lord Bacon says our behavior should be like our apparel, not too straight, nor too pointed, but free from excess.
It is this gift of natural reserve that prevents our becoming "busybodies in other men's matters" and the insufferable bores of society. The habit of reserve is attractive among men, but it is especially attractive among women.
Girls are much quicker than boys to discern this important feature in social life. If the girl is taught in early childhood to practise dignified reserve, it will become a second nature to her, and the young lady in society will distinguish between that sullenness which repels and that reserve which attracts. The power of concealment is worthy of admiration when used in the interest of truth, purity, and honesty. Teach your children as they grow up to merit confidence by frankness, but at the same time to guard with fidelity and reserve whatever secrets may be intrusted to them.
In the Library all the tragedy of "Baldur," Volume II, begins with the betrayal of a secret on the part of his mother. In Volume III the story of "Dicky Random" has an excellent example; so too "The Inquisitive Girl" in the same volume. Several paragraphs in "How to Entertain a Guest," Volume X, are to the point.