It’s an old English saying that the boy’s father often says to them: “manners maketh the man”. And although it sounds funny, the older I get, the more it rings true. You can truly tell a lot about someone’s upbringing, values and social awareness by the manners with which they handle themselves. It’s not about being a snob; it’s about making the decision to be considerate to people around us.
We never sheltered the kids to the world when they were little. We travelled with them from when they were only a few weeks old, we continued to work, socialise and live our lives. When people used to question me as to why I was so relaxed about the lack of routine, I used to tell them that I didn’t want to raise children who expected the world to adjust around them, but who understood that they would need to adjust to the world.
In my opinion, having manners is one small way that we show that adjustment. In a world where everyone appears desperate to be different, the resistance against complying to convention often leads people to confuse the absence of traditional manners with individualism. “I’ll burp loudly if I want to. It’s who I am. People can take it or leave it.”
In my opinion, if your display of ‘individuality’ involves a lack of consideration for others, you’ve actually become desperately unoriginal. Ignorance is not scarce. It seems to me that sadly, with each generation, it’s the kids with manners that are starting to stand out as unusual. For that reason, and many others, I have always made it a priority to ensure the boys grow up into well mannered men.
Back in the days when I was a corporate trainer, I came across a term I’ve never forgotten and now use heavily in parenting: experiential learning. Endorsed by personalities from Aristotle to Sir Richard Branson, experiential learning is simply the process of adopting new skills or principles through personal experience (and reflection), rather than through theory.
Run a search on google if you like, and you’ll come across a plethora of research that supports experience as being an accelerated way to learn, problem solve and retain a lesson. If we look at the ‘learning curve’ – a term we all use frequently – what it basically tells us is that the absorption rate of something new decreases from 100% on the first day, to 50-80% by the second day, to approximately 2-3% after thirty days.
Well at least this helps explains why we find ourselves repeating things to our children a million times. They’re not just trying to annoy us. Turns out, this is a ‘thing’. In the world of corporate training, this is why your weary HR department hires people in bright t-shirts to make you play trust games and other joyful activities with your reluctant colleagues. You’re more likely to remember something you did, than something you heard, saw or read.
When it comes to trying to teach the kids something, I often ask myself the question, “can I turn this lesson into an experience?” It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic, even little moments can have a lasting impact.
One such moment presented itself earlier this week, when the boys and I were walking down to our local sushi place for dinner. I was trailing sightly behind, when we passed an older gentleman watering his roses. The boys are normally fairly polite kids, comfortable with greeting adults when warranted. But on this occasion they walked right past the older man, absorbed in their chatter, and ignored him.
I caught up to them quickly and without explaining why, instructed them to turn around and go back up the hill. They were confused and reluctant, asking questions as to what madness I might be up to now. We walked back to where the man was watering his garden and I explained to them that on their first pass they had failed to show the man the respect he deserved, and for that reason, they were going to do a take two.
The gentleman was watching us with curiosity now. The boys were a little embarrassed, but I reassured them that we would loop back twenty times if required and repeat the greeting until it was sufficiently warm and polite. With sushi on their mind, they went all out and showered the stunned gentleman with excessive hellos, good afternoons and nice roses! He chuckled and thanked the boys warmly. It was clear that he was a little chuffed.
The second part to Experiential Learning is reflection. As we sat down over our teriyaki chicken bowls we discussed the importance of being aware of people around them, and the value of not missing an opportunity to make someone’s day a little better. Manners aren’t just something you bring out when you want something. Saying please and thank you is something we could almost train our dog to do.
Manners are small gifts of character that we offer others in order to improve the quality of our interactions. Whether it be opening a door, offering someone a drink, helping someone or giving a genuine compliment, it all goes to say the same thing: you are important.
And there isn’t one of us who doesn’t need to hear it.