Key Takeaway: Practicing good manners show you respect others and their human dignity. After all, the cornerstone of living well is living a life of service, a life for others and not just for yourself. Good manners is one good place to start, especially if you’re young. Here are 10 manners to serve as your daily mental vitamin!
When I was a child, my brother gave me, I think it was for Christmas, a beautiful pop-up book on good manners. Although my family raised me well especially in being polite, this book was always my handy (and appealing) reference in proper conduct with others.
The very cornerstone of living the good life well is living a life of service – a life for others, not for oneself. If you’re living your life just for the sake of enriching only yourself (in all senses of the word), you may now stop going through this site, and go elsewhere. If you are reading on, I’m sure you’ll agree with the eternal truth mentioned above.
Relationships matter. For us Christians, the building block is love, and who can love without having any relationships? That being said, a loving relationship does have dos and don’ts, and I believe that good manners are part of them. It shows that you accord the other person, especially if you are not well-acquainted, their respect and innate dignity. And this is not limited to friendships and familial relationships, but, as mentioned, to every relationship you have, whether it be just transactional or professional, to your significant other and their own peers.
Actions do speak louder than words – but words can be the ultimate weapon of destruction or the supreme vessel of peace. Good manners, thus, constitute being able to properly conduct yourself in both speech and deed. I would even say it is the building block of personal good governance and ethical conduct, for it sets the tone on how we relate to others.
Although I’m glad that my peers are all well-mannered, I do think that sometimes we may need a little refreshing – myself included! – on how we can show our politeness and respect. Here’s a list – by no means definitive! – of the most common but thoughtful expressions and gestures.
Let me begin with an informal Weekly Word. The word “please” is from Middle English, originating from the French plaisir (“to please”), itself from Latin placere. In fact, the full expression for please is still used in French as “s’il te plaît” (in casual conversation) or “s’il vous plaît” (in formal conversation or for plural recipients) – “if it pleases you”. Maria Popova writes that this expression means that the other party is not obliged to do what you ask them to do, although today, you are obliging them. (More on this soon)
Let it suffice for now to say that saying please shows manners and can turn what would otherwise seem cold or cruel into something kind and appreciative. (Of course, if you’re being sarcastic, it is a different matter…) What can be thought of as a self-centered command becomes a kindly request that upholds the other person’s dignity and thus their self-respect.
2. “Thank you”
Last November, I wrote a post about gratitude, discussing blessings we often take for granted. Now, yes, it might be a little difficult at first to change perspectives and realize that there are so much to be thankful for, but one first step – and again, I remind myself this – we can take would be to say thank you.
“Thanks” – and let this be another informal Weekly Word – comes from the Old English thancas, the plural form of thanc, a thought or gratitude usually kindly. To express thanks, therefore, is to express kindness, and gratitude definitely shows it – that you care for what the other has done for you.
It may range from a simple favor of getting something for your roommate to going the extra mile to arrange for matters for a visiting friend, but they all constitute acts of goodness and kindness done towards us. We can return it by saying our expression of it, or for the extra thoughtfulness, by opening our hearts even more to that kind-hearted soul.
3. “Excuse me”
I can think of three common scenarios when one should say excuse me.
First is when we are walking (or running) and either bump into or need to nudge others aside. To not say “excuse me” (or even “please excuse me. Thank you!”) when brushing aside someone else on, say, the subway would make them think you are deliberately pushing or shoving them aside, or maybe even with the intention to hurt. It doesn’t seem a very good thing if we’re being taught to cultivate, develop, and maintain loving relationships with others, right? But in saying excuse me when you’re passing means that you do not see them as obstacles in your way, but you do think of them as fellow humans who share the same dignity as you do. Saying excuse me would be akin to saying, “Hello! I’m sorry to bother you, but I need to pass by, and I can’t. Would it be all right if you stood aside or moved a little? Thank you.”
Second is when we are attracting attention, say, from a waiter or a receptionist. To say excuse me would be to acknowledge that they have their own thing to do, and you need something from them, could they give you their time? Again, it shows respect for their being human like you and me – it really all boils down to individuality and relationship. To not say excuse me would be to say that you do not care for what they are doing, give me your attention now or else. Imagine yourself in that position. How demeaning would that be?
Third, and the one I’d like to see more often, is when we are burping (or farting!). I know several people who do not say excuse me when they are burping (whether or not it’s noisily rude, whether or not it stinks), and I find myself annoyed. To burp or fart is a natural biological activity like breathing or blinking, since it’s releasing the buildup of gas from your digestive system. But they also constitute, like speaking loudly for instance, a disturbance of sorts – especially when done loudly – and it can be quite rude, frankly. But we can’t help it – so we should say excuse me.
Because “excuse” comes from the Old French escuser, itself from the Latin excusare (“to free from blame”), you’re actually asking for pardon!
4. Opening doors for someone else
Especially when the person is rather physically frail, like your elderly grandparent.
But, really, it doesn’t have to be just for the elderly or (for the guys) for a lady you want to impress. Opening the door for someone else is a display of humble service – the very kind that Our Lord, Jesus Christ, Himself displayed. The King, serving others! That’s exactly what a leader should do.
Although Jesus displayed servant leadership, you are not letting yourself get trampled upon when you open the door to strangers. You’re just being kind, and you’re showing that you actually do care for others. Keep it up!
5. Coughing or sneezing into your sleeve
It’s fairly common knowledge that when we cough or sneeze, we “throw up” or exhale, respectively, potentially harmful microorganisms.
Coughing or sneezing in front of someone’s face is plain rude – and it could cause them to catch whatever you have. Coughing or sneezing onto, say, a chair or bed, especially if it is not your chair or bed, is also rude, because someone else is sitting or sleeping on it.
Now, if you were outdoors, you could cough or sneeze onto the ground. A politer way, however, would be to cough or sneeze not into your hands – because YOU yourself can get sick (again) especially if you touch things like food, or worse, you could transmit it to others, which would be just as bad as coughing or sneezing in their faces – but on your sleeve or your handkerchief. Anyway, by day’s end, they’d be going to the laundry, and they’d be purified and cleansed anew.
6. Not manspreading (and other related iniquities)
Last 1 February 2015, a post on BuzzFeed showed how Dame Helen Mirren, the British actress, despite having an enormous handbag with her, kept to herself on the subway in New York, taking up only one seat and not attempting to make adjacent ones inaccessible or inconvenient for her fellow commuters.
The photo also showed, on the other hand, the man beside her (cropped) “manspreading”, or spreading his legs apart (or crossing them) to the point that he took up more than one seat on the train. To give him credit, his bag was also on his lap, and not on an empty seat.
The subway is a public vehicle taken by millions a day. Sometimes, it can be hard to find a seat, and this is made even more infuriating if other people, consciously or not, take up more than one position (one and a half seats included). It makes you act like you own the place, which you do not. It doesn’t mean you can’t be comfortable. Sure, you can – you should! You paid for it, you have the right – but be considerate and conscious. As I have had to keep learning the hard way, “not being conscious” is not an excuse. We need to learn how to be conscious.
7. Looking the person in the eye
Were you taught, as a child, to look at the person you are talking to, in the eye?
It wasn’t one of the more strictly-enforced rules on me, but I was trained to do so all the same. Why? It shows that you show your respect, that you are giving them your attention sincerely, that you are focused on them, invested in them. As such, you connect with the other person. You build a relationship with them, figuratively (and perhaps literally) peeking into their soul as you do so.
When you don’t look them in the eye, it’s as if you’re saying that they are beneath you and not worth your time or attention. This can be particularly rude if you’re speaking to an elder such as your parent.
Now, if you avoid their eye because you have feelings for them and are nervous, well, that’s a different story altogether. Maybe you should visit Love Letters. 😉 (Hey, I’m happy for you!)
8. Watching your tone
Try saying “Could you get me some water?” out loud, right now. Say it in a gruff, or not-so-thoughtful tone, and hear yourself.
Now try saying it with kindness, and listen to yourself again. Doesn’t it sound so much more pleasant?
We’re not even talking about whether or not you say “please” and “thank you”. Imagine you were at the receiving end of the first example. You wouldn’t feel so willing to get them that glass of water, would you? Their rudeness stings you, and you feel forced to do it, out of fear. Leveled-up into, say, a business setting, you’d feel even worse.
But a relationship – and a world – running on kindness makes you want to do things for others with no resentment. Even if you weren’t told “please” or “thank you”, the fact that the request (not a command!) was said nicely, gently, lovingly – you’d be more than happy to help.
9. Asking others for their inputs
If you’re the type of person who always makes the decisions, on your own, when you’re with others, you shouldn’t be surprised if those people stop wanting to be with you. Deciding on behalf of everyone, without asking for their thoughts, makes you overbearing, bossy, and self-centered – uncaring for the relationships you have with other people.
A true leader always gets their constituents’ opinions on matters. This isn’t to say you’re giving up your own voice. But you are giving everyone a chance to use their own voices. Whether or not you agree, give them the chance to speak or share. Who knows, you might even find something valuable that you never thought of.
Aren’t relationships really wonderful, then?
🙂 😀 :p
They say that laughter is the medicine to good health. Smiling, we can say, is the daily vitamin to supplement your emotional health.
Nothing is more effective in brightening up one’s day – another’s or even your own – with a smile. Smile even if you feel like things are against you. Smile even if you’re carrying heavy emotional baggage with you. Smiling can make the people around you happy also, instead of feeling sad or grumpy themselves if you have on your perpetual bitch face. It’s not just for you, it’s for others too.
Remember, it takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown – so if you keep frowning, you’d end up more tired than if you’re always smiling. Try it now: it does feel heavier to frown, but very comforting and light to smile! 🙂
Have a great weekend!
What good manners do you frequently practice? Comment below!