Friday, September 4, 2009

The Essence of Etiquette is consideration and love

I was recently given a few old books by a neighbor who is moving.  Lovely copies of Treasure Island, Rebecca, and an old book on etiquette called Social Etiquette, or Manners and Customs of Polite Society published about 1900. (I discovered that you can read the full text online for free since it falls outside modern copyright laws). There is much in the book that is no longer applicable in today's society such as how and when to leave calling cards and when men should lift their hats in greeting.  However, the core premise of the book, the very essence of etiquette, is something that will be appropriate for all peoples, at all times, in all places. Truly good manners, truly good breeding come from cultivating goodness from within. If we try to "put on" good manners when we go out or for special occasions "they will fit but illy, as borrowed plumes are wont to do" (p. 20). And all this is based on one thing: the Golden Rule from Scripture which says, "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets," (Matthew 7:12).  True etiquette doesn't mean following a list of rules or using some stiff old-fashioned language, it means considering other people's feelings and needs and accommodating them out of love -- love for them, but most of all, love for God who first loved you!  People tend to think that if someone treats them poorly, it gives them an excuse to be rude and unkind back, but since good manners ultimately stem from our love of God, such behavior is inexcusable.  I remember taking an etiquette class at church when I was an early teen, but I somehow never got that it's all based on our love for God, that was a bit of a revelation to me.

I really enjoyed this list of the "Rules of Etiquette" given in the first few pages of the book.
1. Learn to govern yourself and to be gentle and patient.
2. Guard your temper, especially in seasons of ill-health, irritation and trouble, and soften it by a sense of your own shortcomings and errors.
3. Never speak or act in anger.
4. Remember that, valuable as is the gift of speech, silence is often more valuable.
5. Do not expect too much from others, but forbear and forgive, as you desire forbearance and forgiveness yourself.
6. Never retort a sharp or angry word. It is the second word that makes the quarrel.
7. Beware of the first disagreement.
8. Learn to speak in a gentle tone of voice.
9. Learn to say kind and pleasant things when opportunity offers.
10. Study the characters of those with whom you come in contact, and sympathize with them in all their troubles, however small.
11. Do not neglect little things if they can affect the comfort of others in the smallest degree.
12. Avoid moods, and pets, and fits of sulkiness.
13. Learn to deny yourself and prefer others.
14. Beware of meddlers and tale-bearers.
15. Never charge a bad motive, if a good one is conceivable.

Number 2 seemed especially appropriate for women who somehow think their monthly period is an excuse to "bitch" and be all around disagreeable.  Number 8 and 9 are important for me when Miss M is fussing and whining non-stop. That doesn't give me an excuse to speak harshly back to her. I must remember to be gentle and speak kindly.  Number 12 seems to apply to many situations -- teens, adults, ME!  And number 15 would solve much of our propensity to gossip if we would simply assume the best in people, even knowing we are likely to be wrong a portion of the time.

I don't know who decided along the way that children no longer need to be taught good manners, but the result is clearly evident anytime you go into public and interact with people.  It won't be easy, but I pray I can raise my kids to be well-mannered, considerate, loving people that are a pleasure to be around.  It'll start with me. I must first cultivate etiquette in myself that I may be the best example to my children.  Then we may stand together and shine like a city on a hill that people may see our good deeds and praise God in heaven.

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