Yes ma’am, there actually are rational, common-sense reasons we teach our children manners here in the South. It has nothing to do with tradition and everything to do with making society a more civilized place. And before you think I equate “civilized” with “moonlight and magnolias,” hold your horses — please and thank you.
You see, the truth is, we think it’s wise to teach our children there’s a pecking order in society to which they must adhere. As much as we would like to think we’re all created equal — and yes, in God’s eyes we are, the real-life truth is whether you like it or not, at some point in time, there’s going to be someone who is in charge of you. It doesn’t matter if you like your boss, commanding officer or girlfriend’s daddy, to keep the peace, or your job, you’ll need to show them due respect.
A few years ago, I was driving my sons to school when a police officer pulled me over. Totally frustrated, I stopped and rolled down the window. I knew I hadn’t been speeding, and of course, we were on a tight schedule, but I placed my hands on the steering wheel in clear sight of the officer and gave him a friendly, “good morning.”The officer explained my tag had expired, but I knew for a fact we had received the new stickers in the mail a couple of weeks before, so even though I didn’t agree, I apologized and promised to check into the matter. Sure enough, as we pulled away, now late for school, my youngest son piped up from the backseat and said, “Mom . . . Dad gave me the stickers to put on the car, but I thought they both went on his car.”
My sons’ lesson that morning was not only how the tag renewal system works, but how even when I felt totally irritated by the entire process, (and thought for certain the officer must be blind), I still used good manners and interacted in a respectful and polite way. Though the policeman was younger than me, his title and position in the community was one to be respected, and I said, “yes sir,” “no sir” and “thank you” when responding to the man who was just doing his job.
I often wonder what people who verbally or physically assault others were like as children. Were they allowed to openly disrespect their parents and teachers? Did they feel entitled or somehow “above” everyone else? What takes them beyond a civilized and legitimate questioning of authority to the point of attack?
Having been taught to use good manners from a young age, my son can be steaming mad at me for whatever reason it is teenagers get mad, but the next second, will allow me to walk ahead of him in the restaurant and hold my chair while I’m seated. Angry or not, he knows I’m still his mom, and for that reason alone, I deserve his respect. The ability to control elevated emotions is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced. From simple manners, a civil society is born.
Saying, “please,” looking someone in the eyes when you shake their hand and writing a thank-you note to grandmother are ways of training our children to see others as being valuable and worthy of respect. My husband and sons don’t hold the door open for me in a sexist ploy because they think I’m weak, they do it because I’m cherished.
It may seem simplistic to think teaching children to say, “yes ma’am” will guarantee they’ll grow into well adjusted, respectful citizens, but a solid foundation to anything good always begins with the best materials available. So whether manners are taught in the old-fashioned Southern tradition or in another method from elsewhere, it seems being well mannered just may serve a larger purpose after all.
This story is from my book, “The Majorettes are Back in Town and other things to love about the South.”