Putting the call out for better manners

BY BOB WACHS, News + Record Staff
Posted 4/26/19

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and from looking backward through rose-colored glasses, I have come to believe even more every day many of the things my mother tried to teach me about life in …

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Putting the call out for better manners

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With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and from looking backward through rose-colored glasses, I have come to believe even more every day many of the things my mother tried to teach me about life in general.

Now that I am no longer trying to make a big impression or reinvent the wheel, I find it’s easier to take things at face value and know that there is truth in the small things, which often turn out to be not so small.

For instance, she used to tell me such things as, “You’re known by the company you keep.” I’m pretty sure that means that even if you take a bath two times a day and put on lots of Right Guard and Old Spice but still hang around with pigs in a mud hole that you’ll pretty soon come to be known as that guy who thinks he smells good but lives with pigs.

Or how about her admonition to “play pretty”? I always was pretty sure I knew what that meant while I was a little fellow and doing it. It was only after I got older and fell in love with words and what they mean and where and how we use them that I got to thinking, “How can I do that?” She, of course, meant that I should not fuss and fight if things didn’t go my way and that I should be a nice little boy. That one has stayed with me...for the most part.

There were others. “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too” was one. For awhile I rationalized that I had to have it if I was going to eat it but one day my dad explained to me that the saying meant I couldn’t eat it and still have it so I decided the best thing to do was go ahead and eat it and not worry about the saying.

Now as I get older and do more and more sitting and pondering and observing us human beings and our sometimes strange but always most often interesting behaviors, one proverb of hers — actually it’s more than just one — that keeps coming back more and more and being more and more noticeable is the one about good manners.

Funny, I can’t remember word for word all of her sayings about manners but she did drum it into my head that I should have good ones.

Did I always have them? Uh...“no” would be the correct answer here. I knew what to do but I didn’t always do it, hence I didn’t “have” good manners on those occasions. Sometimes on those occasions another of her beliefs would come into play, namely the one that says, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” She probably didn’t follow that one enough but that’s another story for another time.

Anyway, manners took lots of forms. Say “yes, sir” and “no, sir”; same thing with the ladies. The big three — thank you, please, you’re welcome — were never in doubt. And there were lots of others. But there was another way to “have” good manners — namely, by what you did as much as by what you said. And that idea would lead her to another favorite understanding — “actions speak louder than words.”

If I could pass on to young folks today any one simple, “hang-on-to-this” idea it would be that good manners are one of the most important things you can do...or have.

Interesting, isn’t it, to consider the things that get our goats. They can be very small, like my brother getting the last piece of chicken at Sunday dinner, or someone slipping into the last and only empty parking space in the mall that I’d been eyeing for half an hour, waiting for traffic to ease up so I could proceed.

If you’ll permit me a moment of personal privilege, I’d like to note that as much as any, the one that gets my goat is when someone calls on the telephone and starts full speed into what they want to say. I know why telephones were invented; Alexander Graham Bell’s wife wanted a way to keep up with him if she needed something from the store.

And telephones are fine things...in some ways. But I wonder why folks, when they call, don’t think that the person they’re calling might not be in the middle of their own thought pattern and not ready for a 30-minute conversation? One of the better and more helpful things I’ve learned about telephone manners through the years comes from my better half. Her habit is to say “Hello,” identify herself (something not every caller does) and then ask, “Do you have a moment or is this a bad time?”

I wish more folks would do that.

It would make my mama happy.


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