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home : opinion : e-opinion January 20, 2022

11/3/2021 6:35:00 PM
A Conservative Point Of View
"Manners Maketh Man"
The importance of manners in an age of barbarism

From The Desk Of
Thomas Lark

The surly 37-year-old teenager approached the restaurant door with her daughter in tow.

The girl (an actual teenager, not merely a metaphorical or psychological one, as is her feckless mother) had hurt herself and was on crutches. Reflexively, as is my wont, I held the door for both of them. As I knew the mother, I solicitously inquired after her daughter’s health. The former curtly explained that the latter had fallen, for which I expressed sympathy.

Hard on their heels came an elderly couple. I held the door for them as well.

“Are you the doorman?” the lady quipped.

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied with a grin. “I’m the doorman.”

“Thank you, young man,” her husband said, smiling sincerely.

As I walked to the car with my carry-out lunch, I noted his thanks. I also noted that neither the mother nor her daughter, seconds earlier, had done anything of the sort. They were sullen and silent.

That got me to musing on manners or the lack thereof in our sadly fallen, painfully modern world. Such behaviour is an all-too-common occurrence, and yes, it’s generational. Maybe a generation earlier, certainly two, people would uniformly express their gratitude for such little gestures of kindness as holding a door open or other such minor acts of charity.

Similarly, back then people knew not only to say “thank you,” but they also knew that the proper response was “you’re welcome.” These days, when you sit down in a restaurant, if you thank your waitress, seemingly eight or nine times out of 10, the kid will say, “No problem,” or “Not a problem.” Maybe you’ll get something tantamount to a grunt, such as “Uh-huh.” Maybe you’ll get no response at all.

Mind you, I’m a generous tipper. My wife and I are poor, but when we go out, we like something nice and are prepared to pay for it. I often leave more than 20 per cent at our favourite restaurant (a different place from the Gaston County establishment cited above; this one is in Denver) and elsewhere. The service at the latter location in eastern Lincoln County is usually top-notch, and good service should be rewarded. Waiters and waitresses often scrape to make ends meet. They’re undertipped. They’re stiffed alto-gether. It can be ugly.

Thus I was appalled when after a recent dinner, an acquaintance tipped our excellent camarera only 10 per cent (!!!). I couldn’t help noticing his bill, as it was directly beside our own on the table. In his defence, I know he is ignorant of such matters, so I said nothing. Still, this is––however inadvertent––un-Christian, uncharitable and just-plain bad manners. To quietly rectify this, when we rose to leave, and he wasn’t looking, I discreetly slipped a few more dollars beneath his bill, bringing his tip up to 20 per cent.

And as for the slangy “no hay problema” response, this is simply wrong. I blame it on bad education and bad parenting. These are the children and grandchildren of Hippies, and it’s an easy surmise that their own brainless brats will grow up moronic and mannerless. No, not all of ’em. I’ll be generous. Probably true of north of 90 per cent of ’em will. What else can one expect, stuck as we are in this worsening post-Christian world? A kind of neo-paganism began to set in some 55 years ago when the Hippies were vomited forth upon an unsuspecting, undeserving world, and it’s only gotten worse with each passing decade.

It wasn’t always this way of course. For most of the history of the West as we know it, informed as it is by a profound Christian sensibility, manners existed as an extension of said religion’s ethos. Being kind and using a bit of politesse just made sense, and it was simply the right thing to do. Good manners serve a good purpose. Proper etiquette created proper people. It made the difference between good behaviour and bad behaviour, separating the gentleman from his beastlier counterparts in that uncouth lot from the wrong side of town.

Nor is this in any wise any sort of advocacy for wealth-based snobbery. Indeed, some of the worst-mannered pricks I’ve ever had the intense displeasure of knowing were millionaires: petty robber-barons of the local landed gentry, very short indeed on both noblesse and oblige and drunk on their own inexcusable hubris and toxic narcissism. But truthfully––rich or poor, educated or not––anyone can have good manners.

Talking of bad parenting as a root cause of modern mannerlessness, writer Emily George concurs. Writing recently in Collegiate Times, George said:

“In addition, there’s a lack of discipline. When children are disrespectful, they aren’t punished. To them, this means that acting in a way that was traditionally socially unacceptable is now innocuous. It seems that many parents––and I’ve seen it firsthand––continuously appease their children out of fear of resentment. Constantly giving children their way influences the way they act and how they treat others at school, in the work place or during any social activity. They’re oblivious to the impoliteness of, say, getting up from the dinner table before everyone else has finished.

“This atrociousness of our youth has become more prevalent just in the recent decade,” she continues. “I can remember the days of my youth when my mother would correct me if I didn’t follow a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer with ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir.’ Now, I find it rare to converse with youth without blunt, judgemental remarks from them.

“Manners and proper etiquette are characteristics that should not be shunned because of laziness or fear. It is a social predicament that should be fixed. These children will grow up to run the world some day, and they should know how to be considerate of the people they will encounter along the way.

“If I’m fortunate enough to have children in the future, I’d like to think that I will work hard to ensure that they receive the best attention and discipline, so they can have mutual respect with others. I don’t want to live in a world governed by ill-mannered individuals who never experienced punishment for mistreating others.”

Be better than that; be yourself

Back in the good, old days of Merrie England, more than 600 years ago, Bishop William Longe founded many institutions of higher learning, including amongst others Winchester College and New College, Oxford. Also known as William of Wykeham, he served his flocks and his nation well during his 80 years, eventually becoming chancellor of England. He famously observed that “manners maketh man.” This maxim became his motto and that of the establishments he created.

And back in 1987 (only yesterday, to me), in “Englishman in New York,” Sting sang of a transplant friend of his, born in Edwardian England, who was––shall we say––eccentric. But the man possessed excellent manners, and he was known for his panache, favouring antiquated dress and courtliness. Living in New York City himself at the time, Sting was inspired to take a bit of artistic licence (“I was looking for a metaphor,” he said) and conflate his friend’s story with his own:

“If ‘manners maketh man,’ as someone said,

Then he’s the hero of the day.

It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile.

Be yourself, no matter what they say.”

His words resonated so deeply with me that I still have them (along with a good portion of the album, Nothing Like the Sun) memorised.

To be clear, we do not seek to be different for its own sake or to attract attention. We do so because we can’t help it. The differentness flows out of us, as naturally as breathing. At the end of the day, it’s simply about being true to yourself. And in an ever-darker world, where conservatives are the new rebels, that’s never been more important.

So recall what your parents and grandparents would’ve told you:

“Remember your manners.”

---The views and opinions expressed in “A Conservative Point of View” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Lincoln Herald.

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