Why manners matter

Have you ever wondered why you’re told to keep your elbows off the table? The rule dates from the Middle Ages when tables often were just a big board placed on a stump. Leaning on the table with your elbows could easily tip the table and make everyone lose their food! Today, it’s not good manners to text at the table, because it sends a message that you aren’t interested in the people around you. But even as they change, manners are always aimed at doing the same thing: making other people feel appreciated and respected, which also helps friendships develop.

Good manners have been described as the product of a noble mind, a mind that is attuned to the needs of others and their likely preferences. Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested that: "Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices".

However, manners are more than just niceties that we have to force ourselves to do. They’re a great tool for teaching kids about respect and care for others. In our increasingly egocentric world, manners are more important than ever. They signal, if only for a moment, that we are thinking of and empathizing with those around us.

Being polite is respectful to others, plain and simple. We say, “Please” because we respect the other person’s right to say, “No” to our request, just like we say, “Thank you” to show our appreciation for their efforts. Manners help us put others before ourselves in small, but important ways.

In recent weeks we have witnessed some instances where tennis players were upset by the calls made by the umpire. Their reactions have ranged from both verbal and physical abuse aimed at the official. There have also been a number of news reports whereby a number of sporting codes are worried by the lack of officials leading to a number of winter sports. This shortage of officials is largely due to the on-field abuse they receive primarily from parents on the sideline. The sheer lack of respect is the most worrying trend.

By contrast, taking the time to be polite and putting in the effort to appreciate other people is a way of acknowledging that how we behave matters to other people.

As society evolves so too have some of the manners that once were commonplace changed as we adapted to the world around us. An example of this transformation would be that after being shown respect or kindness people would handwrite a thank you note and post it in a letter as a token of thanks. Now we no longer use ‘snail mail’ but employ the immediacy of emojis, texts, emails or calls from our mobile phones.

While some forms of communicating courtesy have changed there are still some core behaviours that are important to us to ensure that respect and common courtesy is upheld. I have listed my top five:

Saying “Please” and “Thank you” - these are free and don’t take a lot of effort

Greeting people and making them feel comfortable - Pleasingly over the past few weeks we have observed some of our boys stop what they are doing as they see a parent who is new to the school and take the time to greet them and make them feel welcomed

Being on time - I hate being late!

Be polite and allow people to have their say – thus showing you are genuinely interested.

And RESPECT - treat everyone with respect.

‘A gentleman is not defined by the content of his wallet or the cut of his suit. He is defined by his manners and the content of his character.’ - Anonymous

Tony Dosen
Deputy Headmaster