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Manners And Morals

( Originally Published 1899 )

THE social instinct, along with all other human instincts, is inventive. It is not satisfied merely with the presence of other people. It soon begins to devise ways and means for its completer gratification. It profits by experiences, as already explained, and learns to respect the individuality of others. It takes pleasure in their pleasure. It grieves when they suffer. It identifies itself with them. Sympathy and love, self-denial and service follow. This development being more or less reciprocal in the individual cases, additional ways and means of showing deference and of contributing to the comfort and happiness of one another are easily found. Even children quickly discover that which will please others, and often with rare generosity seek to bestow it. The principle is not disproved in saying that many children and adults serve others because they expect a service in return, nor in saying that they labor to make other people happy because their sensitiveness to the condition of others is so great that they are miserable on seeing them unhappy.

Out of this spirit of companionship and good will have risen the code of manners generally observed in good society. Even Bushmen and Patagonians observe simple forms of etiquette in their social intercourse. Pirates and outlaws are as ex-acting in certain social requirements as are the Knickerbockers of New York city. The simple folk of the Scotch Highlands and the humble' peasantry of the Tyrol are models of courtesy and good breeding. All civilized people are governed by social customs that are held in as high esteem as the statute laws. They touch every phase of the domestic and the community life. They include the relation of master and servant, of superior and inferior, of peers and equals, of old and young, of friends and strangers, of the same sex and of opposite sexes; they include the proprieties of the street, the railway car, the church, the club, the public assembly, the parlor, the dining room, etc. Few men who are lacking in good manners are successful in business or prfessional life. The secret of the art of managing men is found largely in the art of treating them courteously. Emerson says that " address, good manners, rules the world." It makes friends, it wins votes, it brings trade, it opens the door to the social circle, it forwards diplomacy, it disarms hostility, it secures cooperation, it everywhere contributes to the comfort and the enjoyment of mankind. The utility of good manners is often overlooked in the education of children.

Mere politeness should not be confused with good manners. The former is simply the observance of external forms. The latter is the generous expression of the self in friendly deference to others. Politeness is more or less studied and artificial; good manners are sympathetic and spontaneous. The former is put on as occasion demands, the latter are so fully a part of the self that they are never easily cast aside. Affectation tries to hide itself in politeness; sincerity expresses itself in good manners. All efforts to teach the children the forms of social intercourse without exalting the kindly spirit above the graceful act must result in making them merely polite. A selfish child may be polite, but not good-mannered. The essential in all cases is a large heart, a warm heart, and an honest heart. Good manners are bred into children; politeness is put on the outside of them. To know how to act in company is but a small part of good manners; it is just as important to know how to act in the family circle and in the associations of everyday life.

The development of good manners in children is largely dependent upon the presence of good manners in the home. If affection and personal solicitude for each other's comfort control the actions of the older people that gather round the hearthstone, the little children will hardly be long in catching the spirit as well as the action. Children reared in such homes are usually easy and self-possessed in any company. They are not obliged to " put on " when among strangers, and consequently they suffer little embarrassment at any time.

As previously suggested, every child needs friendly counsel and advice concerning his actions toward others. There may be occasions when he needs to be reminded that he is petulant or selfish, angry or boisterous, forward or obtrusive, thoughtless or cruel, uncouth or vulgar, impertinent or disrespectful. There certainlyare occasions when he needs to be shown how to be gentle and considerate, to control his temper and to respect the rights of others, to be self-sacrificing and generous, to be modest and retiring. These virtues lie at the very basis of good manners. Every child is entitled to be taught also the simple matters of form in table etiquette, in entering and leaving the homes of others, in meeting people in the street, in inviting or accepting the company of others, in welcoming and entertaining guests, etc. It is difficult to separate good manners from grace of body and from grace in sitting, standing, walking, talking, and gesture. These make up part of the social as well as the physical education of the child.

In the study of the social life of children the inquiries, as in other investigations suggested, should embrace both the facts and their causes. Why are some children coarse and ill-mannered, while others from the same home are refined and agreeable? Why are some familiar with the forms of polite society, and yet arrogant and boorish in their relations to other children? Why are some children great favorites with their class-mates, while others have few friends? Why are some naturally affable and popular, while others are disagreeable in spite of every effort to please? How closely allied to good manners are habits of cleanliness and neatness, good morals, etc.?

Manners and morals are not separated very far from each other. Rosenkranz says that moral culture is the essence of social culture. As explained in the preceding paragraphs, all social forms have had their origin in the desire to multiply and enhance the pleasures of social inter-course. That desire rises from love and sympathy, the crowning graces of the ideal moral and religious life. Prudential action that is, action for advantage or profit to the self may be characteristic of much business and social intercourse. If, however, the action is prompted by the motive of good to others, it becomes moral. Prudential control suggests the idea of getting; moral control, the idea of being. The test of a man's prudence is in what he has; of his morals, in what he is. The distinguishing characteristics of the former are foresight, vigilance, industry, economy, courage, self-possession, perseverance, self-interest; of the latter, integrity, sincerity, fidelity, forbearance, sympathy, gentleness, temperance, meekness, purity, brotherly kindness, charity. Prudential control raises the question, What profit? Moral control, What good? In prudential control the motive is always advantage; in moral control, it may be the good or the bad. The former is judged by its attainments; the latter by its motives.

The moral idea grows out of the social. The latter recognizes the relations of individuals to each other. The former recognizes its obligation to realize those relations. Whatever it can do to benefit others becomes duty; whatever it can do for the self which will enhance its power to serve others is also duty. It builds up a personal ideal whose realization becomes a duty, a consuming desire. Actions in conformity with it are called right; those in opposition are called wrong. It is readily seen that moral emotions, moral affections, and moral desires develop with moral ideas. Moral control is attained in the same general way as physical, intellectual, and prudential control, and is the end of all the others. Herbart says that that education which has not morality for its supreme end must result in hopeless confusion.

The child's impulses are to be true. Temptation to be untrue comes when he wishes to shield himself against ridicule or punishment, or to astonish somebody by a big story. Every one has noticed how particular a little child is to have the minutest details of an incident correctly given. If mother, in relating some household incident that occurred the day before, happens to omit a part of it which she does not care to repeat .to the visitor, little Mary is sure to remind her of it and to tell it herself. Erroneous or incomplete notions of a thing at the time of its occurrence easily explain the tenacity with which children cling to wrong statements they afterward make concerning it. In other cases, faulty memory, laziness, or indifference may explain what appears to be a deliberate falsehood. Whatever the cause of misrepresentation, the tendency soon becomes a habit unless promptly checked. Once a habit, it begins to breed every sort of deception, and to corrupt the whole moral nature of the child.

Truth and sincerity are the basic virtues in all morality. Without them there can be no moral character.

Only when a child begins to distinguish between right and wrong may he be said to have a moral character. The moral element begins to appear when he does what his parents tell him to do because he loves and respects them; when for the same reason he denies himself the pleasure of gratifying a desire to do a forbidden thing. It certainly is not present when he obeys them from fear of punishment a cat or a dog does the same thing. I once heard a little girl say to her mother, " I did not read that book, because I thought you would not wish me to do it." That is a step further in advance, but she has made greater progress when the discovery that the book is evil immediately begets aversion to it bcause her nature finds no pleasure in it.

Ask a dozen children why they do certain things which you consider morally good, and care-fully note their answers. It will not take long to discover that the moral element lies not in the act itself, but in the motive, the intention. Discover the causes which prompted the reasons given by the children. Some will cite the authority of parent or teacher and others will give their own reasons for their answers. Some will probably quote apt maxims and others maxims that have no bearing whatever on the subject. How prominent is the personal or selfish element in the answers?

The moral instinct or impulse of the child strengthens with every effort he makes to know and to do what is right. The law of reaction is even more clear here than elsewhere. Apperception of the right in each individual case is dependent upon the moral character as then organized; the momentum of the impulse to its realization is similarly dependent. In the beginning he may be doing right things impulsively, or out of pure sympathy, or from a desire to please others, or in obedience to authority, or for personal advantage that may come. Along with the pleasure in right doing gradually develops the sense of obligation and of individual responsibility.

Little progress in moral culture will be making unless the child's ideas of right being and right doing are daily growing more definite and more clear. He must not only love the truth, but must know what is truth; not only desire to be honest, but must be able to discern what is honest; not only love noble conduct, but have the power to recognize it when he sees it; not only hold purity in high esteem, but know in what purity consists; not only love his fellows, but also understand his duties toward them. Many people are negatively good, but lack nearly every active moral virtue.

Conscience is the complex activity which discerns right and wrong and impels to right action. Its simple analysis shows-

1. A general idea or conception of right.

2. Judgment as to the conformity of a particular act to the general idea.

3. A feeling of obligation to do what the judgment affirms to be right.

4. The effort to perform the act.

5. The feeling of satisfaction accompanying and following the effort, or dissatisfaction if no effort is made.

With this analysis before us it is not difficult to see more fully the dependence of moral character upon environment and education. The problems of right action are incomparably higher than any problems of the physical universe. Their solution in each individual case requires the cooperation of all the activities of the self. How important, then, that everything entering into the life of the child should be tested by its effect upon his moral nature!

The reason for urging a clear understanding of the real nature of good manners now hardly needs an explanation. If the nobleness of spirit has been keeping pace with the nobleness of manners, the transition to good morals is already made. If otherwise, the child has simply been given the power to cover up his true nature and to deceive his fellows at his will.

The presentation and development of right motives in children is the most delicate problem in education. The exercise of authority or of force will not accomplish it. Nagging and scolding make little progress toward it. Rewards and prizes will not do much better. Advantage and profit unduly exalt self-interest. Words of appreciation and of praise may stimulate to right doing. Respect and affection for others may serve as a powerful restraint against evil. Some of these will have but a temporary effect in promoting right conduct, while all will lack the essence of the moral life the impulse to do right for right's sake alone, regardless of personal pleasure, personal profit, or of profit to others.

This statement should not be construed as meaning that the motives named are at all times unwise and hurtful. All of them, not even excepting the second, may profitably be used in the different stages of the child's development. There are times when he is incapable of appreciating any other motive than that of physical force. There are other times when he will more quickly respond to a promised reward, or to suggestions of advantage, or to words of encouragement, or to an appeal from one whom he respects and loves, or to the simple assurance that an act in question is right. In the development of the child's motives, the following simple rules will be found valuable:

1. Use negative or restrictive motives sparingly, relying rather upon positive motives or incentives.

2. Appeal to the motive which the child can appreciate.

3. Appeal constantly to the highest motive the child can appreciate.

4. Improve each vantage gained to educate the child to appreciate a higher motive.

5. Eliminate the personal, or selfish element as rapidly as possible.

6. Be patient for results. Relax vigilance only when the impulse to the good dominates the child's entire being.

Make the question of motives a frequent study in the management of your children. At what age, if any, are they disposed to ignore the authority of their superiors? In what way, if any, does the pubescent period affect the manners and morals of children? What effect has home training had upon them? Are you ruling some of them by sheer authority or by brute force? Are you satisfied simply with their cooperation, even though secured by a low motive, or are you using the various means at your command for developing higher ideals for right action? Are you appreciating the sensitiveness of some of the rare little souls intrusted to your care and are you giving them that sympathy and counsel for which they crave every hour of the day? Are you on the alert for the slightest indication of a better spirit and a readier service in each child? Are you living so blameless that every time the child's life touches yours he is quickened to nobler endeavor?

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