“Back in the day” we were RAISED to understand that decency, civility and plain old good manners mattered. There was a certain level of decorum that was expected no matter whether you were in public or in the privacy of your own home. Eldership within the community was valued; adults were respected and given deference for the life experiences, time, age and knowledge that they brought to the table. As children, we never called grown-ups by their first name. We said please, thank you and you’re welcome on a regular basis. When you went out in public you recognized that you were a representation of the family and community from which you came. People were going to pass judgment on our parents, grandparents or even our racial group based on how we comported ourselves in the public square. Good manners mattered and there was an expectation that we would have more success in life if we treated others in the same way that we ourselves would like to be treated. That’s the “Golden Rule.” Where has all of that gone?
Have good manners gone out of style? Or, have people stopped teaching their children how to represent themselves, their family and their community in a respectful manner? Has it become less and less important that our children and young people act and react out in the world in a way that will bring pride to the communities they represent and not disgrace? It appears that good manners and civility have gone out of style because I have recently been in schools where children are publicly cussing out the adults. The language that young people use with their peers is one thing, but when there is no difference in the ways that they address teachers, administrators, elders and other adults, that is a problem.
We cannot blame young people for the apparent disconnect from civility and decorum when they have not been taught the basics of good manners. We cannot blame these kids when the adults they see are demonstrating behavior publicly that also lacks civility, decorum, respect for others or themselves. Parents cussing out teachers, administrators or other adults in the presence of children clearly sets a terrible example and demonstrates not only bad manners and poor judgment, but by example, is teaching children disrespect and discord rather than respect and humility. Whether or not we choose to recognize it, we all have some measure of influence on those with whom we interact. There are always people watching what we say and what we do. This is especially true for young people. They are watching the adults around them for the clues and cues of how to navigate life. They are watching the adults to determine how to address conflict or resolve issues. However, the adults have not been good examples.
We are failing at the task of demonstrating the basics of civility and decorum on a regular basis. We are inconsistent. We can blame social media and the Internet, or abdicate our responsibility to the modern age of two income families, no supervision, the “plugged-in” electronic media generation of video games and YouTube, but the bottom line is that it is the responsibility of the adults to give young people “Roots and Wings.” If we want change in the way our young people behave, then we have got to set better examples for them to follow. Good manners will never go out of style.