Etiquette – sometimes referred to as “manners,” that type of behavior
parents once taught their kids so they wouldn’t act on their impulses –
gives every appearance of being pushed aside, replaced by
insensitive and crass behavior in everything from cutting in line to
drivers flipping one another the bird.
And it isn’t limited to Massachusetts.
I’ve seen it in many places – from the male chauvinist in Eugene,
Ore., with whom I had business dealings during my Tribune days,
to a racist working at a Boston Market in Lombard, Ill., and a gay
man in Washington, who refused to promote a colleague of mine
because she was African American.
What do they call that, WWB? Working While Black.
I don’t know.
But it shows that jerks are everywhere.
It was telling moment, three years ago, when a lady working behind
the counter at a nearby Starbucks thanked me for saying please and
thank you as she attended to my order.
“Thank you for being so considerate,” she said.
““You all do a great job here,” I said, caught off guard by her
“Not everyone thinks so,” she replied.
Two summers ago, my wife was flipped off as she drove out of the
parking lot of a local train line carrying commuters in and out of
Boston. I guess the other driver thought he was more
Never once did that happen in the 16 years we lived in a Chicago suburb.
But, of course, it’s possible it happens in other suburbs of the country’s
third largest city.
My wife and I spend a lot of time teaching our kids manners. Everything
from how they dress and speak, including how they handle themselves
at the dinner table, has been reviewed hundreds, thousands, maybe
millions, of times.
Obviously, we haven’t perfected this – we only need to see how our sons,
10 and 9, behave at home to know how badly we’re doing – but we
work on their behavior nonetheless.
I’m always grateful when another adult reports that they’re well behaved,
but I also wonder whose kids they’re really talking about.
If only we could get them to behave at home – without the constant
Right now, we’re following the advice more experienced parents provided:
Eventually they’ll grow up; in the meantime, keep repeating the lessons.
During recent trips to a nearby mall, where I was buying the boys new
clothes, I kept up the lessons, telling them – well, to be completely
truthful, it entailed gripping their shoulders so they’d stand still – to
allow the women to board and depart the elevator before they did.
The reaction, on both occasions, was fascinating.
One woman noticed what I was doing and smiled while the other
appeared incredulous, giving the impression that I was wasting
time. She shook her head and chuckled. Fortunately neither boy
picked up on the reaction of the second woman.
And while this is hardly a scientific survey, these reactions might
provide a clue as to where we stand on manners today. Half of
the country is grateful for them while the other half is so jaded
it’s not expecting them – hardly a good thing, I’d say.
Still, we should aim for civilized behavior. It doesn’t take much
to remind ourselves we’re not the only ones on the planet. Just
look up from your wireless, handheld device and you’ll see them.
About a year ago, when the boys were earning their Cub Scout
Citizenship Pin, they met the local police chief. During the
meeting, I had one of the boys ask a question – What could
they do to be good citizens?
He gave a wonderful, simple answer that the kids still remember:
Open doors for others and always say please and thank you. Be
considerate. Be nice.
Words to live by.