|“Mere conventions, mere formal ceremonies, do not indicate good manners. Good manners are the result of an unselfish desire to avoid annoying others and to give pleasure to one’s associates.” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1912|
You may be happy in the thought that you are progressive. You are interested in everything which can help the world along. You study political economy; you believe in equal rights: you are a good economical housekeeper; you are a cultured woman; and you take an active part in all movements which tend toward social betterment. But what part are you taking in the bringing up of your children? American children have the reputation abroad of appalling ill manners. It is almost universally merited.
On board a large ocean liner (the passenger list composed of many nationalities) four children at a table in the dining room were noticeable for their bad breeding. They were handsome children, well dressed and carefully groomed. But they laughed loudly, stared at neighboring tables, made audible comments upon people, whispered and pointed and giggled, until some of the other passengers called the attention of the head steward to their annoying peculiarities, and they were requested to behave themselves in a seemly manner.
Governesses and Tutors for Them, but Mother’s Training Was Lacking
These children were from America, and the most offensive of the four was the twelve-year-old daughter of an American banker. They had been given governesses, tutors, schooling and travel benefits, but they had never received the refined training of a wise mother. Otherwise, they could not have shown such vulgar and offensive traits. Children are born mere hungry little animals. They have no way of knowing what is good taste, and what is kind, and what is graceful and agreeable, unless they are taught by their elders.
All refined manners are things of growth, from the animal state to the higher human state. It has been a thing of slow evolution. Our remote ancestors all ate ravenously and used their hands to tear food into morsels. They smacked their lips, and made loud sounds and drank noisily. They flung their limbs about ungracefully and picked their teeth with thorns and slivers, and they did not hesitate to slap and bite and kick one another when angry, as animals do.
Gradually an idea dawned upon these more highly developed creatures that there was such a thing as behavior, and that it was something for which to strive—something better than mere impulse. So through eons of time, good manners developed, and the more delicate and gracious the manners, the farther away the man is from the purely animal state. Mere conventions, mere formal ceremonies, do not indicate good manners. Good manners are the result of an unselfish desire to avoid annoying others and to give pleasure to one’s associates.
Children should be taught these things from the time they are able to sit upon a mother’s knee. They should be taught that their hands are not to pull and tear the mother’s hair or gown or slap her face or otherwise be offensive. A little dog can be taught that he must not jump on people and put his paws on their laps; it requires a very short time to train the average puppy in this manner. So a small child can he taught to be gentle if the mother cares to give the time and effort. And as the child soon understands language it can be trained by tender, sweet counsels to show courtesy in all the little daily matters of life. It is the habit of most American children to dispute with their elders and flatly to contradict in argument. In European countries such a thing is almost unknown.
It’s the Duty of Parents to Correct Faults in Contrary Children
American children COMMAND their parents to fetch and carry objects for pleasure and rarely say thank you unless reminded. It is an easy matter to teach a small child to say “Pardon me, but I think you have made a mistake,” where the child is confident, to an elder or a companion who has made a mistake in relating some incident. Every child has a right to express its opinion. That is the way childish minds expand. But when they say, “That’s no such thing.” “No, you didn’t, either,” and the parent allows the flat contradiction to pass as a proof of the child’s smartness, then a great American evil is being countenanced and abetted.
American children are rarely taught to listen respectfully to their elders. They whistle, sing and interrupt, and walk away in the midst of conversation without making apology. Boys sit in the presence of older people who stand; they rush into and out of a room where there is conversation or music, with no apology, and usually unrebuked. Proper attitudes of body, proper position of growing young limbs, proper handling of table utensils, the retirement to the private room for use of toothpick or attention to the person in any way—these are a few of the many things which it is the mother’s duty to teach her children early and continually.
Mother Can Easily Teach the Great Value of Good Manners
Any woman, however poor and humble, can instruct her children to be gentle mannered, courteous, and refined in voice and deportment if she realizes the value of good manners in the world. Good manners, without education, will pass many a man and woman through the world and into good society; but education without good manners will only enlarge a human being’s opportunity to he offensive to his fellow men.– Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1912
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia