What Are Good Manners? A Quick Guide
Why Do We Need Manners?
Manners make the world go 'round. They are to the smooth functioning of society as oil is to an engine.
Without good manners, people get offended, hurt, and in extreme cases, very bad manners can lead to things such as the all-too-familiar public shootings, and even wars between countries when some official protocol is snubbed.
What Are Good Manners?
Most of us are taught from childhood how to be polite. We learn such things as saying "please," and "thank you" when asking for and receiving anything, from second helpings at dinner to birthday gifts, to borrowing a pencil from a co-worker.
Those are the two most basic manners; the kind you learn in kindergarten and before. But there are others:
- giving up your seat on a bus to the elderly
- holding open a door for anyone, but especially for someone who is struggling with packages, a baby stroller or young children,
- a handicapped person
- picking up something someone has dropped, and handing it back to them
- letting someone know their shoe is untied, so they don't trip, and so forth.
Those are the basic, every day manners we need out in public.
Public vs. Private Manners?
In our private lives, dealing with friends, family and social groups, we are not excused from good manners. Indeed, do not the people with whom we live and have frequent close contact outside the family deserve the same treatment and respect we should afford to even strangers? I think so. This group includes:
- responding to invitations
- following through on commitments we've made
- giving notice if we are unavoidably delayed getting to a meeting, party or other function.
Check the chart below, to see where you fall. I'd be willing to bet (and I'm not a gambling gal), that too many of us are guilty of some of the things on the bad manners side from time to time; others are guilty of all of them all the time.
And, manners are not exclusive to speech or thoughtfulness, either. There are many rude gestures that speak volumes of bad taste and bad manners.
Quick Manners Checklist
Answering an RSVP to a party
Leaving the hosts to guess whether or not you'll show up
Returning phone calls promptly
Never returning phone calls
Holding the door open for people
Pushing your way through first, and let the door close behind you
Allowing another driver to merge in front of you
Cutting off the other driver, after all, "me first!"
Turning off your cell phone in the store, bank, etc.
Yakking on the phone the whole while you're shopping, oblivious to your cart blocking the asile, etc.
Attending a party/event you said "yes" to
Telling the host that you can't come after all, because another event came up afterwards
Telling surprise guests you're sorry, but you already have a commitment (if it's true)
Leaving people you promised to help in the lurch, or not going to an event you already said 'yes' to, because guests showed up
Calling ahead to ask if it's okay to come visit
Showing up unexpectedly at someone's home, and expecting them to drop everything to visit with you
How Do You Feel When You Come Across Rude People?
Let's face it. We're all human, we make mistakes, get in a hurry, and sometimes forget ourselves in the daily rat race. It can be easy to slip up and accidentally cut off another driver, or rush through a door without noticing someone else waiting to go through.
However, people who routinely behave like this are rude and selfish, and I know I don't like it very well when a door slams in my face, or I have to slam on my brakes because someone was in such a big hurry that they just had to get in front of me, only to get stopped right next to me at the next signal.
Sure, there are emergencies, but I seriously doubt all the people I see doing this daily are on their way to deal with any emergency.
I was raised with the "Golden Rule." While I'm not religious by any means, I do believe in ethics and good manners, and that Golden Rule saying of, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's the most basic lubrication for society at large.
Keeping Your Word
I was raised that, if you promise someone you will do something for them, whether family or a group to which you belong, you bloody well better follow through and do it! If you have a habit of changing your mind, with or without letting people know, you will develop a reputation as an unreliable 'flake.'
It does not matter if something else you'd rather do comes up in the meantime. You keep your word. The only exception to this would be a true family emergency. In such cases, when family needs help, then family comes first.
That said, a family raised with good manners understands the principle of honor and keeping one's word, so they would understand if you said you could not attend Uncle Fester's birthday party because you promised the youth group you would help chaperone their party (or whatever other outside commitment you may have made).
This means, if surprise guests show up on your doorstep, the way to handle it, if you have a prior commitment, would be to say, "Oh, gosh, it's good to see you, but I sure wish you had called first to let me know you were coming. As it is, I'm just on my way out the door to a prior engagement."
If there is time between the guests' arrival and when you have to be at your other gig, then sure, visit with them, but also let them know that your time is limited, and you have to leave by such-and-such a time. Don't allow them to put you in the position of having to invite them to dinner, or anything else that would prevent your follow-through on your prior promise.
In such a situation, it is the height of rudeness to stay home and visit, leaving the folks to whom you promised help in the lurch, wondering what happened to you.
This is actually a dual-fault scenario. It is equally rude to just drop in on someone unannounced, for that very reason. They may already have plans, and your surprise arrival causes an embarrassing conflict. They are forced to choose between hurting your feelings, and going back on their word.
If you are visiting from some distance out of town, this is even more important--you really must let them know, before you leave home, of your plans to be in the area, and pre-schedule a day and time for your visit.
What are Acceptable Cancellations?
Q. Can you give me any examples of what kinds of things might be acceptable cancellations for something I've promised to do?
A. Well, sure! Here are some general types of things that would have you forgiven for cancelling. These are just random examples, but fall into a specific type of category that would be excusable.
- Family medical or disaster emergency
- Your car breaks down
- You have a medical emergency
- Death in the family, or of a very, very close friend
Now, these kinds of things are expected to be rarely used excuses.
If your "Aunt Fannie" dies too many times, or your car breaks down every other week, your story is likely to be suspect.
You may gain a reputation as a liar, which, combined with being an unreliable flake is a very bad thing. It's an excellent way to lose friends.
So, What Excuses Can I Not Use?
Q. Okay--so what kinds of excuses are unacceptable to use for getting out of things?
A. Basically, everything else. If you don't have something going on of the serious nature listed above, then any other excuse marks you as a flake. Some examples:
- My friend just invited me to a party, and I'd rather do that
- I need to get my hair done
- Some guests just showed up by surprise
- I changed my mind and I don't feel like it
All of those are bad; the last example is the worst of all. Just don't use any of these bogus, lame excuses.
(Don't worry; answers are anonymous)
How Do You Rate?
Last But Not Least
I nearly forgot--how rude--and had to come back and edit to include such basic manners as saying 'excuse me' if you bump into someone...or belch or pass gas in the company of others.
Now here's when you know you were raised with such really good manners that stuck:
You are alone in the house, or in the company of only your pets, and you still, unconsciously and automatically say "excuse me" if you belch or pass gas. You are a well-mannered superstar!
Acknowledge and Appreciate Good Manners in Others
Manners are reciprocal. If someone holds a door, say thank you. If you need something from a grocery shelf, and someone else is in the way, say "excuse me, please." Or ask them "could you please hand me a box of that cereal?" and then thank them.
Likewise, with youth, who seem these days to be totally out of touch, it is very important to set a good example, and give them positive feedback when they do the right thing. Here are two examples:
- Several years ago, I was shopping, and a little girl came up behind me, and said, "Excuse me please, can I get some of that?" (I forget the specific item; we were at a freezer case.) I was very pleasantly surprised, and looked around, and spotted the woman I took to be her mother. I approached her, and asked if that was her daughter. She at first looked startled; apprehensive, as if she were about to get a bad report. When I said to her, "I'd like to compliment you on having a very well-mannered young lady," she smiled as big a smile as smiles get, and thanked me for letting her know. I also made sure the young girl heard what I said.
- Recently I was at a public celebration event, and two young boys (probably not more than 2 or 3 years different in age, but who did not appear to be brothers) were in front of me in line for some shaved ice. It was a hot day, and the line was long. As they stood there, the younger boy was asking the other how much the cones were. At the reply of "$4.00," he looked shocked, and said, "I only have $5.00." He would not have enough money left for anything else. The older boy said nothing, but when we got to the window, the older boy ordered two cones, and waved the younger boy's money away, treating him to his shaved ice treat. I told the young man, "That was a very nice thing you just did for your friend." Kid like, he was a bit embarrassed, smiled, and shrugged, but I know he was probably beaming with pride inside to be noticed for doing an act of kindness.
It all comes back to the old, "What goes around comes around." Manners are like a boomerang. Use them, and be kind, and people will respond likewise.
Treat people like dirt, and don't be surprised to find yourself on the outside looking in, and used as a doormat.
Thank you for reading, and please pass this around if you know anyone who should read these guidelines.
© 2014 Liz Elias