Children's etiquette training has much broader implications for a polite society than simply saying please and thank you. The primary reason for practicing etiquette is to make us feel safe as we go about our day brushing elbows with strangers. If we thought that we could be accosted by our neighbors because they disapproved of the color of our trash cans, or wrestled to the floor of the grocery store because somebody wanted the melon we just selected, we would all lock ourselves up in our houses and never come out.
Practicing etiquette is about valuing and showing respect for others and living with integrity. The majority of us do not live in bubbles and it is imperative that we learn to live peacefully amongst each other. We must teach our children that grievances are bound to come up and when they do people must be treated with dignity and respect. The complainant is obligated to address his concerns in terms of how he feels and not what others should do to make him feel pacified. "You hand over that melon to me now!"
Recently a situation arose that demonstrates this point precisely. I felt compelled to write a letter to our neighborhood board of directors after an older neighbor made a rude remark, about families with children, at a community board meeting. (I have changed the names in the letter.)
Letter to the Board:
"It was with great sadness that I read the comment, "People with children would be better off choosing to live in other neighborhoods like River Trail." printed on page 18 of The Woodbury Word May 2009 edition. The neighbor making this hurtful statement was commenting at a Board of Director's meeting, to a young family's request to place a swing set unobtrusively in their back yard following our development's deed restrictions. The family is new to our neighborhood...welcome. "
I remember the joy that my husband and I felt building our home here in Woodbury seven years ago. We chose our lot, cabinets, front door, countertops, and tile with our eight week old baby cooing in our laps trying to envision our little boy growing up in our beautiful new home. He took his first steps, spoke his first words, learned how to ride his bike and welcomed his little brother home from the hospital all here in this community that we handpicked for him.
The intolerance that this neighbor displayed is deplorable. This is not a 55+ community and unless the deed restrictions change I don't see it becoming one soon. It is my hope that we are raising our children in a community of tolerance and respect that upholds our deed restrictions and the true spirit of community, did we make a mistake? Imagine the outcry if someone at a board meeting spoke up and suggested that African Americans, Jews or Hispanics should be sent off to other neighborhoods?
I know that the vast majority of our neighbors are warm and loving people who only want the best for their neighbors. However it can be the mean spirited acts of a few that destroy the warmth of community for the whole. I know that my husband and I will do our best to uphold and pass on to our children the true meaning of valuing others. I hope that when we joyfully add one more baby to this community in August she will be given the dignity, respect, tolerance and acceptance that she and all of Our children deserve.
The man who made the inflammatory comment made an enormous manners gaff. It was his expectation that the needs and rights of others should be ignored to make his life better. His suggestion that specific home owners should pick up and leave their homes because he feels bothered, is just plain rude. His lack of manners shows an ill regard for the basic tenets of a peaceful society.
Etiquette rules are the glue that holds a civil society together. If we want to live in a culture of peace, tolerance, and respect, basic manners must always be practiced. Starting with the fundamentals like please and thank you and moving to civil conflict resolution prepares children to behave appropriately as adults. Children must be taught early and adults must remember that ignoring these rules is tantamount to anarchy.