Much ado about Manners
When I was in Vietnam recently, Fiona Briers told me that saying “please, thank you, and I’m sorry” aren’t part of traditional Vietnamese culture (although doubtless such things are taught to people working in the tourism industry). She has been insisting on such courtesies in her business, and has felt like this is not only changing communication routines, but shifting attitudes in significant ways.
This got me thinking about the words we teach small children. Perhaps most parents who teach “please, thank you, and I’m sorry”, if they think this through at all, are doing it to help their children become socially acceptable in a wide a range of settings as possible. This is a laudable aim: no one would want their child to become isolated because they behave in socially unacceptable ways.
I wonder whether they are also helping to shape the soul of a child in positive ways?
Not that such courtesies are “magic words”: ever one has met someone who may be scrupulously polite externally, but who hasn’t incorporated empathy, kindness and consideration into their soul. However, words do carry power with them, and provide a kind of discipline that may help a child learn that they are not, in reality, the epicentre of the universe.
“Please, thank you, and I’m sorry” may in fact be potent symbols of that which makes for a fulfilling life.
“Please” is a symbol of humility. I do not demand my rights, but in grace give others the freedom to say “yes” or “no”. This is the foundation of respectful relationships.
“Thank you” is a symbol of gratitude. The capacity for thankfulness and appreciation of life’s big and small blessings is one of the doorways to joy. We are able to give others the gift of appreciation, one of the doorways to lasting love.
“I’m sorry” is a symbol of repentance: taking responsibility for our actions and working toward positive change. This is the doorway to personal freedom, releasing us from resentment, bitterness, and arrogance. It is the foundation of healthy long-term relationships with other (imperfect) people.
“Please, thank you, and I’m sorry” are key components to prayer, and a necessary part of spiritual fulfilment. Finding peace with God and peace deep in the soul requires humility, gratitude, and repentance.
These are my thoughts at the moment. I wonder what you think? Might manners be the external symbol of a deeper reality? Might “politeness” be one of the healthy vestiges of the Christian history of the West? What do you think about manners, and the consequences of the LACK of manners? I’d love to hear from you!