A few thoughts on manners

You see a lot of manners when you work at a middle school.

Believe me, not all of them are good manners, either. Probably because of my age I notice things like that.

Often, I have to admit, I am pleasantly surprised at the number of students who say thank you when they’re served in the hot lunch line. Even more surprising, perhaps, is that many of these teenagers say thanks for each food item put on their tray.

That’s the good news. There are also way too many kids who never utter a word even when they look me right in the eye. Those are the ones who don’t smile, either, of course. Sometimes I try to help these poor souls at least look more pleasant even if they don’t feel that way.

Like the boy who comes for breakfast every day, always scowling and contemplating what he wants to eat. He used to think that approach would work, regardless of how many times I greeted him with a cheerful good morning, called him by name, and smiled at him. Now I just pause before serving him until he looks at me and tells me good morning. Occasionally now he even does that without being prompted and when I don’t speak to him first. Sometimes I even detect a bit of a smile on his lips.

What a contrast he is to another boy who occasionally comes for breakfast, always smiles, and always returns my “How are you?” with a nice “Fine, and you?”

Now I understand that we live in a fast-paced and busy world, with many needs and demands on a family on a daily basis. Often children don’t live with both parents and instead must adjust to the rules, routines, and customs of two households. That could be why the concept of good manners doesn’t always get brought up or reinforced in the home.

I was pleased to see a couple of posters on the topic go up in our cafeteria a few weeks ago. They’re very simple, yet effective. Each just has bullet points. Those on the poster titled “Lunchroom” are:

Make sure everyone has someone to sit with

Introduce yourself to new people

Clean up your messes

Pick up trash-even if it’s not your trash

Keep your voice at a respectful level

Say please and thank you

Just be nice

Perhaps that last point sums up what manners are all about: Being nice and considerate of others is really simple, inexpensive, and it goes a long way, even in the drive-through, microwave, give-it-to-me now, me-me-me society in which we live.

As Plato put it, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”