Formalities you say? What is a formality? In the most basic of terms: manners. Formalities are manners. We could call them niceties, amenities, bearing, behavior, breeding, carriage, ceremony, civilities, comportment, conduct, courtesy, culture, decorum, demeanor, deportment, dignity, elegance, etiquette, good breeding, good form, mien, mores, p's and q's, polish, politeness, politesse, propriety, protocol, refinement, social graces, sophistication, taste, or urbanity (thank you my friend the thesaurus!) but in an nut shell, all of these words mean basically the same thing; polite, refined social behavior.
And this concept is lacking, everywhere.
I'm not saying there aren't people that still know how to say please, thank-you, and excuse me in the average social setting, they exist, but they are not the norm. Most people are so self-involved the idea of being polite to someone else just for the simple act of being kind is such a foreign concept in our "dog-eat-dog" world when it happens, we are shocked. Admit it. You hold the door for someone and they say, "thank you," you are floored. At least I am, my husband is. More than once recently I've held the door and people just brush right through prompting my brain (but not my mouth - yet) to think, "you're welcome your highness, I'm sorry I didn't have time to roll out the red carpet and toss rose petals...will move more quickly next time!" These fools are everywhere. Shopping in our stores, driving on our streets, teaching our children, making laws (GOOD GOD!), and they function daily without manners. And do you know why? No one stops them.
The problem with manners is a double-edged sword. Those of us with them often don't correct those without them because we don't want to be rude. The curse of having manners is often also having an understanding of tolerance and we solace ourselves into thinking, "bless his/her heart, he/she just doesn't know any better." At least in the South that's what we're thinking.
Manners could change the world. I don't think anyone would be offended by a few more "pleases'" and "thank yous'" spewing from people lips. Manners will get you almost everywhere in my classroom. The students I am most drawn to are not the ones that are "super-smart" (or at least think they are...they do not grasp that at 15, no matter how "book-smart" you are, the real world can and will eat you alive, but I digress) but the ones that are the most polite. There are children failing my class from time to time or barely pulling a "C" that I would prefer to spend my time with because they are kind. They have manners. Give me a smart child with a genuine soul, now there's something special! When children with manners ask me to take late work they use words such as "please" and "ma'am" and they say "I'm sorry" and they mean it. It isn't a trite expression that covers all wrong, it's genuine. I assure you I hear more empty apologies on due dates than any one person should ever have to tolerate. But because I have manners, I overlook those without the ability to truly feel any remorse for their actions.
But this atrocity of society isn't only at the high school level. It's a snowball effect. The students I deal with now that lack manners will grow up, they will become adults and part of society. Their ability to be polite and use manners will not change, they are rude now and they will be rude then unless something stops this pattern. I am doing my part, but I assure you, it takes more than a teacher to break the pattern, parents must also expect manners from their children. This right here is another problem.
I have stood by and watched teens cuss out their mothers in the office of my school. Five-year-old children hit their parents in the face and the parents do not correct the behavior. Elementary students that "mean-mug" me when I drive by in my car because I interrupted the game they were playing IN THE STREET! When I was a child, we played baseball in the street but when a car was coming we did something amazing - WE MOVED! (And usually waved because it was polite) Last night, my family went to dinner. As we were trying to park the kid in the spot next to us flung his door open without paying attention and I was mentally preparing myself to wait while he slowly and apathetically removed his body from the car, but much to my shock, he jerked the door closed and waved us into the spot. This was, of course, the right thing to do. I should not have been surprised by his manners, but I was. Because they are so rare.
Walking in my neighborhood I've watched people allow their dogs to poop right on the sidewalk or in someone's front yard and just leave it there. A man once actually said to my mother (when she witnessed such poor animal owner behavior), "just being neighborly" and laughed while his dog defecated in the yard. Yes. That happened. Shake your heads with me now in a collective "tsk...tsk...tsk". Now kudos to my mom, she had words for him, but many of us are not so brave. And here's is why: people without manners are often vindictive and mean. I jokingly correct kids in my community because I don't want my house egged or my tires slashed. Even living in a nice neighborhood, these thoughts cross my mind because children just aren't raised to respect anyone else (even themselves) anymore.
And manners are more than just saying please and thank-you, it extends to other word choices and clothing, yes clothing.
First, word choices. This is from a note I put on Facebook this week:
Why do people feel it's necessary to cuss openly on FB posts, pictures, etc...? I mean, I'm not a prude, but are manners just entirely gone? It's mostly young people, under 25 (because no self-respecting person over 25 would do this - ludicrous), and I don't think they have any idea how ignorant it makes them look...and I should probably say stupid because they know better - that's not really ignorance. I don't think anyone would be offended by a little more tact in the world. I wouldn't.
I'm certain I cuss at inopportune times, but it flies out and I usually retract quickly and apologize (I know when I'm out of line!). Just this week, the computer lab at school died in the middle of an assignment and I filtered my mouth like crazy - but I FILTERED! There was no need to drop "F" bombs for it. There is no need to say a picture is so "Fing" cute - really? Think about that expression....is that act actually cute? You are using an adverb to describe an adjective that just doesn't fit...it does not work.
Openly cussing, racial slurs, saying "that's so gay", or any other offensive comment in mixed company (women, men, and children) is NOT okay. If you want to run your mouth in the privacy of your own home, feel free to do so, but refrain in public. It just isn't necessary. And don't tell me "Freedom of Speech". Our forefathers did not write this amendment to protect idiocy. Stop it.
The next major violation of manners: clothing. Yes, clothing. For awhile there was a shirt that circulated my great home state of Texas that said "F@#K Ya'll, I'm from Texas". A double-violation, cussing on clothing. Embarrassed me to be from Texas any time I saw that shirt. Are Texans proud? Yes, we are. Is that shirt the best way to show it? No, it's not. It makes us look like a bunch of uneducated nimrods. Yes, nimrods. A month ago I was in Kroger and saw a guy about my age, maybe a touch younger, wearing a shirt that said "I love Vagina" with the coke emblem going across it - a play on advertising. Really guy? REALLY? I have a seven year old that probably reads better than you and I really don't want to explain that him just yet. Of course, several things crossed my mind when I saw his shirt: 1) Has there been a doubt? 2) Are you compensating for the fact there has been a doubt? 3) How many QUALITY women are we picking up with that shirt? 4) I'm going to assure you that with that clothing option, "it" does not love you back. But I said none of these things, because I have manners. I almost took a picture of him because I really could NOT believe someone my age was stupid enough to wear that shirt, but yet, there he was in all his asinine glory. Allowed in the store to roam freely among the normal people, the seventy-year old lady getting her eggs is probably still dumbfounded by his lack of manners.
My husband and I try every day to teach our son manners. To expect from him "yes" and not "ya". To say please and thank-you, to apologize when he's wrong and mean it, to say "excuse me", not to interrupt adults when they are talking, to play as a team, to share, to be a decent human being. But he's already learned early on it's not effective. When he was only four years old he got in trouble for being ugly to another little boy at daycare and when I asked him why he didn't use his manners, he responded, "because when I use my manners, no one listens." Out of the mouth of babes I believe is how the saying goes. And sadly, he is right. It's a sobering thought but all too true. In my classroom when I am nice about being quiet, no talking during the test, turn your work in on time, don't be late for class, etc....they blow me off. I might as well be speaking Greek (thank you Shakespeare for that expression). But the minute I become "mean" (they call me another word), they jump to it. And I tell them every time, "you all don't want me to be nice to you, you don't want me to use manners because you are not accustomed to them." It breaks my heart every time. They force me to be ugly, to resort to scolding.
I don't know how to fix this mass epidemic of mouths and poor choices. I am not claiming my innocence either, but I find at least I am aware. Aware of my mistakes and I try to censure my mouth and use manners all the time. For example: my first thought on the title for this blog was "Sh@t on the Sidewalk," but then again, that wouldn't be polite.
Maybe at the beginning of every school year, we should issue the Miss Manners Basic Training book along with textbooks, it could hurt. Right?