Manners Matter

Photo credit: Thanh My & Yves-Noël-Marie GONNET-NGUYEN

“Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.” – Laurence Sterne

Are you minding your manners? Are you saying “please” and “thank you;” sending hand-written thank you notes when people do something gracious for you; and being nice to the people around you? Are you being honorable, staying in integrity and being true to your word? I hope so because it seems to me that many people have either lost the art of etiquette, or were never taught it in the first place. Having grown up in a southern state, I have a big appreciation for these small, but important, gestures of kindness, and it concerns me that more people do not behave in a way that truly honors themselves and the people around them. This is a subject that I can really get on my soapbox and speak to anyone who will listen.

What is it about manners that are so important? Why do they matter so much, especially to us baby boomer southerners who hold these standards of polite behavior as ceremoniously sacred?

Many of us have grown up receiving guidance on how to behave— anything from “be nice on the playground, put your napkin in your lap or say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’,” to learning the Bible verse Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Other directives such as “treat others as you want to be treated,” “honor thy mother and thy father,” and my personal favorite, “we teach people how to treat us” live in our cells as we move through the world. These timeless nuggets of wisdom give us a code of social conduct, a way to relate to others and navigate through the world.

Yet, it sometimes seems that the whole manners thing can be about putting form over substance, especially if you are being nice to someone who you really don’t know or even like, or are trying to get something from someone. After all, isn’t it more important to be real and authentic, not fake or “putting on airs?” The truth is, having good manners is not really about the other person. It is about you and who you are as a person. What values you hold to be true, your self image and how you feel about yourself; what kind of impact you want to have on other people around you; and how you are being your most authentic self in the world—these are the foundation for exhibiting genuinely good manners.

Using good social graces is intended to reflect your own moral compass, as well as honor another person, not to be manipulative or get something from someone. It is not about the pretenses of doing the right thing, but rather it goes deeper than just following a prescribed set of rules. To me, manners aren’t just about holding your fork the right way and doing the “should’s” in life, but rather, having good manners represents how you feel about yourself by reflecting self-respect, as well as how you feel about others by showing loving kindness. Using the niceties in life implies a mutual respect for both yourself and the other person; and it opens the door for a more positive encounter and an opportunity for true connection. The truth is, using good manners builds trust and creates unity, and that is good for everybody.

As Emily Post said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” When you extend graciousness, you are saying to the recipient, “I see you” “You matter” and “I am curious about you as a person.” Graciousness allows a present-moment connection to be made with another human being. And when a spirit of generosity and compassion exists, your efforts can be reciprocated and shared. These standards of integrity can serve as a navigation system or guide to healthier relationships, more successful careers, higher social standing, and even inner peace… just let these manners truly reflect what’s in your heart and soul, hopefully a loving kindness and respect for all human beings.

17 Standards of Integrity to Live By:

  1. Smile, don’t frown.
  2. Be gracious and generous with yourself.
  3. Be considerate often by saying please, thank you and you are welcome.
  4. Care deeply, and don’t be dismissive of others.
  5. Be present. No really, BE FULLY PRESENT with others. This includes putting away electronics when you are with another person and giving up your relationship with your phone in order to have a relationship with a person.
  6. Get curious about others. Stop talking about you, and ask about the other person. You already know what is going on in your life, so learn what’s going on with another person. Don’t be self-centered.
  7. Be compassionate and empathetic.
  8. Practice forgiveness, and don’t hold grudges.
  9. Show respect to everyone.
  10. Clean up your language; don’t use profanity or negativity.
  11. Create your own personal boundaries; don’t forsake yourself or keep toxic people in your life.
  12. Stop being a victim by giving up complaining, criticizing or gossiping.
  13. Treat others as you want to be treated.
  14. Cause no harm to others and take personal responsibility for your own impact.
  15. Write meaningful and heartfelt thank you notes, preferably by hand.
  16. Respect other cultures, and their customs and rituals.
  17. Do something for another without recognition or the expectation of receiving anything in return.

If manners are a guideline for your personal behavior, then act accordingly. To begin to be more authentic in your own actions, take this integrative action: Acting from a place of your true self, do one thing every day for another person that shows genuine loving kindness and heartfelt caring…. With NO expectation of anything in return. Do this everyday for the next month, and notice how your world changes.
Meet Jennifer: Life Coach, Inspirational Speaker and Author Jennifer M. Blair is founder of Excavive™ Coaching and Consulting, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Her work focuses on empowering people to pursue their passions, increase their self-confidence, communicate powerfully and build the kind of lives they want to live. If you love these Blog posts, many have been adapted from her first book, The True You: Tools to Excavate, Explore and Evolve, published in 2011.