Mind Your Manners

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jun 06, 2015

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.”
Emily Post

For as long as I can remember, I have looked forward to receiving our monthly publication of Reader’s Digest. An article about Paul Ford titled “The Man with the Perfect Manners” recently captured my attention. By his own admission, Paul describes himself this way, “I don’t look polite. I am big and droopy and need a haircut. No one would associate me with watercress sandwiches.”

But he goes on to describe how he has framed all of his behaviors around some of the simple, common courtesies of everyday life. Those common courtesies cause people to say again and again how polite he is.

That article got me to thinking about how we interact with each other and the myriad of social situations that add to or take away from the relationship capital we invest in each other. Some of these courtesies seem to come naturally to us. We know in our culture we are not to talk with food in our mouth or burp at the table or sneeze out loud in a public meeting. 

Farm boys sometimes, though, miss these kinds of things. I was not nearly as quick to open the car door for Evie or help her with her dining room chair or with her coat as I should have been. I am still amazed at her patience with me while we dated and then when we were first married. We still smile (I sort of shudder) at some of my blunders. 

Over the years, however, we hopefully accrue these graces and they become a part of who we are. I am always impressed by the gracious manners of our students here at the University of Valley Forge when they want to set up a meeting. So many of them apologize when they want to see me by referencing how busy I am. Of course, I always tell them it isn’t necessary for them to apologize because without them, none of us would need to be here. But somewhere they learned good manners.

Those good manners are also demonstrated by the written expressions of gratitude people give each other. Just the other day Mike, UVF class of 2011, visited his alma mater and placed a note of thanks at the front door of our house. His words of gratitude for the things he learned and the people who helped change his life warmed my soul.

Coincidentally, just about the same day I received an email note from Bill, another student from our days back in the Midwest when he was in a class I taught over 30 years ago. He graciously reflected on something positive I had said which stayed with him to this day. 

There is a great story of Jesus healing 10 lepers in Luke 17. Only one of them returned to say “thank you.” And Jesus asked this haunting question, “Where are the other nine?” I often wonder if my behavior displays the good manners of the one or the bad manners of the nine.

We all know good people can display bad manners. As Jeff Bezos said, “Email has some magical ability to turn off the politeness gene in a human being.” I find that I can turn that same switch off when I’m driving in heavy traffic because Route 23 is closed for bridge repair or just waiting too long in line at the fast-food drive-through window. 

I guess that is what Mignon McLaughlin had in mind when he said, “Many who would not take the last cookie would take the last life boat.”  

An old maxim says it all, “Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you — not because they are nice but because you are.” 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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