(Part 6 in a series of letters called Ramblings from your Grandparents)
Manners and Mannerisms
“Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right” ….Proverbs 20:11
My earliest memories are of going to church services with my parents every Sunday morning, every Sunday night and every Wednesday night. Each Sunday as we approached the preacher who was “greeting” all the congregation as they left the building, I would wrap myself up in my mother’s big skirt and refuse to look at him. Under most circumstances I was a very obedient child and no one seemed to question that this behavior was unacceptable. “Nancy is so shy,” was often heard.
Excusing Bad Manners
Today, as then, I see many people using shyness as an excuse for bad manners. It has been increasingly more apparent that children are being left to do their own thing in the department of manners. I have been appalled at the number of young people within our own church family to whom I speak each Sunday and they mumble a word in reply, or pass me by without even acknowledging that I have spoken to them. Neither will they allow their eyes to meet mine. These are not shy, little children but teens about to step out into the world of competition. Are they really shy? Do they believe returning a greeting is unnecessary, unimportant? Are they angry with me and don’t want to speak? Are they rude? Are they ignorant? Are they in awe of me? (Ha!) I choose to think they are simply uninformed about the need for good manners that we might have an orderly and pleasant world to live in.
Little children should be taught and teens and adults should know, the importance of looking at someone “eyeball to eyeball.” To drop our eyes or look away as someone is greeting us is to convey indifference or rudeness or arrogance. The very least we can do is to meet their gaze and give a cheery greeting. We can even shock folks from time to time by greeting them first!
When Grandpa and I were first out of college in our full-time work, I was still a reasonably shy person. Wife, mother, Christian….and still I would panic each time I had to meet someone new. I was invited to a neighborhood get-together with other ladies. I asked Grandpa if I had to go. “Why wouldn’t you want to?” he asked. “I will probably meet someone I don’t know,” was my lame reply. “Well, that will be great!” Grandpa said.
Nevertheless, I did not go. Later, word came to me that the hostess of the party (who was not a part of our church family) was very offended that the new, young preacher’s wife did not come. I vowed then and there that I would never do such a thing again. I knew I had probably damaged my ability to reach that lady for Christ and I would not put myself in such a position again. From that time on I would meet people cheerily, reach out to those more shy than I, force myself to lay my shyness aside, because I wanted to always be in the best position to influence people for Christ.
That same motivation still drives me today. People in my life today are incredulous if I mention being shy. They have not seen that side of me, but those old traits still linger in the closet of my heart. We can overcome shyness. It does not have to cripple us and our testimony for Christ all our lives. Greeting people warmly, meeting them eye to eye is a choice we make.
I believe a synonym for good manners is thoughtfulness. Why would we accept a kind comment or a gift from someone without saying, “Thank you!”? Why would we push ahead of others to be the first through the door? Why would we always be in the front of the pot-luck line at church dinners? Why would we eat our food as animals do with no thought of anyone else? Why would we pick the most comfortable seat for ourselves? Why would we go out into public dressed slovenly and carrying a distasteful odor everywhere we go? Why would we make crude or rude or cutting remarks to another human being? Why would we trample over the wishes of others to always have our way?
Such lack of thoughtfulness and concern for others’ feelings and comfort indicates not only ignorance but arrogance and selfishness and has no part in the life of a Christian. Jesus said it best of all:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love and Good Manners Go Hand in Hand
“I’m not a morning person,” often camouflages poor manners and rudeness as well. While chatting with a young father a few years ago, we were talking about this very subject. He told me of his teenage son when he was just a little boy and that Peter was a grumpy withdrawn fellow each morning when he first arose.
“We’re not going to have a bad-mannered boy each morning, Esther,” he announced to Peter’s mother. “We’ll help him learn to be sweet and pleasant.” And they did! It was a revealing story to me. I’ve known lots of people through the years who say, “I don’t wake up until 10 a.m.” or “I have to have a cup of coffee before I can speak,” some similar thought. It had never dawned on me that this natural tendency could, and probably should, be changed. But why not? We guide our children to lay aside their selfish ways, their fears, their meanness. Being a grouch is an option, too. Why not stop this morning-syndrome-attitude and choose to be pleasant-spirited?
We would not for one moment, dear kids, encourage you to be nice to people just to get your way. Most of us detest manipulative and deceptive motives and want no part of it. But if we are serious about serving Jesus to the best of our ability, then we will be a student of human nature and do those things which will help us to be as influential as we can possibly be in telling others about Him.
Here is another “biggie” subject: The society we live in today has little regard for pure speech and gracious conversation. It is hard to not grow callous to bad words because we hear so many of them, and it is equally easy, to start using them ourselves. I pray not ONE of you will ever grow comfortable hearing God’s name or Jesus’ name used disrespectfully. We hope every time it happens you cringe a little as you hear the name of your beloved God or Savior used to punctuate someone’s raucous comments. And we pray you will not stoop so low as to use gutter language to express your views and ideas. There are some things too personal to be made a part of everyday conversation and some things too vile to speak of ever. It was said of Peter on the night Jesus was betrayed:
“Surely you are one of them, for your speech gives you away.” ….Matthew 26:73
May it be said of us Christians that our speech “gives us away.” May our words convey such love and concern and gratitude and kindness that the world will take note that we have been with Jesus!
Good People Skills
We’ve already talked about work and how important it is to a well-rounded life. I think of so many young people I know who have not developed good people skills and yet will soon be stepping out to join the work force. Many of them have good minds and good abilities but may very well find others get the job assignments because they don’t know how to get along with people and to be concerned about others.
None of us really want to make fools of ourselves and that often leads us to just not try. Instead, we need to ask questions, listen intently to instructions, show that we really want to learn and really want to do a good job. Most employers are looking for just this kind of person.
Set the Pace
One last thing: Grandpa has often said, “I will not let someone’s bad disposition shape my life today.” That’s a good thought to hold on to. Just because someone in your family, the neighbor next door, a fellow-student, or a co-worker is in a bad mood is no excuse for you, or me, to be difficult to live with. Be your own person, live independently of other’s moods. Set the pace for a happy home, school or work place You’ll be a happier person, and so will everyone around you.
I know you remember the story of Samuel in the Bible….the little boy who went to the temple to live with Eli, the priest, at an early age. Do you remember someone called Samuel’s name in the middle of the night? Samuel thought it was Eli and ran to his bedside saying: “Here I am, you called me?” Eli assured Samuel he had not called and sent the little boy back to bed. Three times Samuel heard his name and three times he ran to Eli. There is not a hint that Samuel was upset or short-tempered with the old priest. Finally, Eli realized that God was calling Samuel and gave him proper instruction in answering his Divine Creator. May we all have the heart of Samuel!
Good manners, gracious mannerisms and pure speech don’t just happen, they are a choice we make!