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Manners Matter

A few weeks ago I had a young guy I was mentoring in my car, on our way to have a meal together. As I was talking, he pulled out his cell phone and started checking his email and returning texts.

I stopped talking in mid-sentence. After a few seconds of awkward silence he asked, “What’s the problem?” “The problem”, I said, “is that we were in the middle of a conversation and you began having a “conversation” with someone else. So, I thought I’d let you finish before we re-engage.”

“Oh, I’m sorry I just wanted to return these messages before I forgot them, he said a bit embarrassed. “I know what you were doing”, I replied, “and your generation thinks nothing of it. But, those of us over 50 think it’s not respectful behavior – good manners, so tonight let’s talk about that. You help me understand what’s important to your generation and I’ll share the expectations of mine.”

At dinner, I explained that as we go through life, we’re constantly sending out messages, not just verbally, but also in our body language that communicates what and who we value. That’s why I purposely chose to go silent. It was a non-verbal message to make memorable, a discussion about why manners are important.

It turns out he really did want to understand how older people could feel disrespected by him or his friends. More importantly, he wanted to understand how to send out the right signals. He was teachable.

The next time you meet with the men or women you’re mentoring, perhaps even your own children or grandchildren, think about having a discussion about good manners. Many younger people haven’t learned the lesson that what may be perfectly acceptable to their peers, may be offensive to older adults, or to women, even women their age. “Knowing your audience”, is critical for understanding manners. As I’ve traveled, what is rude in one culture is often perfectly acceptable in another.

Because I wasn’t really prepared to discuss manners that night, we covered only a few of the following ideas on manners I’ve written for this blog. As you read them, is there someone you’re being impressed by God to share them with?

Manners that Show Honor

• Use “Mr.” or “Mrs.” when talking to adults at least one generation older than you. (Wait for them to give you permission to call them by their first name. They will if that’s what they’d prefer. If not, you’ve not offended them.)

• Stand whenever a woman enters the room or approaches your table in a restaurant unless the woman is a business colleague or relative. However, I still stand when my wife or a friend’s wife leaves the table in a restaurant. (My young friend thought this was a bit old fashion, until he did it for his girlfriend while out to dinner with friends the next week. She commented that it made her feel special. So much for old fashion!)

• Turn off your cell phone when you’re with another person, so you’re not even tempted to check for messages. And keep it out of sight, letting the person you’re with know they are your only priority.

Other ideas on good manners

• Show up for appointments on time and apologize sincerely if you don’t.

• Wait for the other person to finish talking before you begin. (I’m still working on this myself.)

• Respond to messages or emails on a timely basis and apologize when you don’t.

• Get in the habit of always saying, “please” and “thank you” even to wait staff, or people who work for you – to everyone!

• Look people in the eye, when you’re talking or listening to them.

• Write “thank you cards” rather than sending emails or a text to show your appreciation. (A mailed card sends out the message, “I’m grateful enough to invest the time to write and mail a card.”)

• Give compliments freely.

• Always introduce yourself and those you’re with to others and look them in the eye when doing so.

• Men should always open doors for women of all ages.

• If you are in a mixed group, always greet the older adults and the women first.

• When writing an email or text in anger, observe the “24 hour rule; wait 24 hours, pray about it and read it again to make sure the content and tone is appropriate.

• Ask someone you trust to view your Facebook page and tweets to give you feedback on the impression you’re making good or bad to your “friends”.

• If an elderly person or woman enters a bus or train, and there are no more empty seats, always offer him/her yours.

• Men should help women put on their coats/jackets.

• Wait until everyone is served before eating, and only start eating after the host has started.

When I finished writing this blog, I made the decision to find an opportunity to discuss these ideas with our older grandchildren, even if it’s only to re-enforce what their parents have taught them.

Question: Do you think any of these ideas are out of date? Are there important ones I missed?

Following Jesus in Real Life

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