Manners – the very word conjures up vaguely unpleasant associations. We have all, at one time or another, been at the receiving end of a tirade – either by parents, teachers, or older relatives about “our” manners.
Yet politeness and manners are nothing more than a manifestation of respect for other people. Politeness is such a basic thing – or it should be. It costs nothing and helps our daily functioning work smoothly, enabling strangers to interact in a pleasant and effortless way. It transcends cultures and race. There need to be no elaborate “rules” adhered to. All that is needed is common sense and consideration for others. Yet it appears to be a dying art – if not already dead.
Children were taught to greet their elders clearly, looking them in the eye. When helped, they were taught to say “thank you.” Requests were expected to be preceded by “please,”; if you could not hear or understand something “I beg your pardon?” - rather than “what?” - was in order.
Cultural differences do occur here. Those with Anglo-Saxon backgrounds use “please” and “thank you” with a frequency alien to other cultures, even within the Western world.
Forms of courtesy relating to the treatment of the elderly, women and seniority amongst people at work or in the family are handled are culturally specific. This leads, not only to misunderstanding, and, at times, resentment between people, but also to a generalised judgement of other cultures, which is often ill-founded.
These differences do exist and are too numerous to mention. However, the basic premise of courtesy and manners is very simple and universal to all human beings.
True “manners” are nothing more fancy and elaborate, than the courtesy of not judging oneself to be above others, more superior or more important in any way.
Children, especially children here in Dubai who grow up with more affluence than most on the planet, are developing an alarming sense of “entitlement”. Some display horrific behaviour towards their maids and even their own mothers. They are not learning any form of respect for anyone other than themselves. They grow up expecting to be “served” in whatever their whim is. In return they are rude, abusive and discourteous. Sadly, there is no racial or cultural difference here, it exists everywhere. And it is the result of plain bad parenting.
When respect and manners are not instilled in the young, their bad behaviour towards others will escalate. Can you imagine the future of a child, or youth, who has never had to take anything or anyone but his/her own self into consideration before? How will they cope with adulthood? Earning a living? If they are fortunate enough to grow up never having to work for anything, how can they possibly respect any possession or person they know? If they do not work to sustain themselves financially, how will they be able to look after and guide the next generation, their own children?
Teaching children to work and look after themselves is respecting them – respecting them enough to give them the means to be self-sufficient and proud of their achievements. Not doing this for them, is depriving children of their basic human rights. Sometime every family’s money will run out. What then?
If children can get away with bad behaviour at school because their parents “fix it”, how will they learn to respect rules or authority? How will they then be able to abide by regulations and laws?
Over- permissive parenting, allowing children to grow up with no boundaries, no manners - is disrespect towards children. They will suffer the consequences – unpopularity, lack of success at school and being disliked. Children who are arrogant, rude and have not learnt to follow instructions politely and promptly are being done a disservice to by those responsible for their upbringing. Nannies and teachers cannot put in place what parents have not done at home.
No child should be allowed to become completely dependent on the adults around him/her when well-developed, old enough for certain skills and in full health. Carrying their own school-bags is respect for their elders, even if they are employees. Being able to feed themselves beyond the age of 2, is respect towards them. Not teaching them how to do this is rendering them dependent and socially inept. The same for applies to dressing themselves.
All children forget their things. However, allowing them to demand that they are delivered to school is accepting their disrespect – it implies that the other person’s business is not important and can just be dropped; the fate, at sometime or other, of most mothers here in Dubai. Children should be encouraged to suffer the consequences of their negligence. This would be far more powerful in spurning them into more efficient organisation next time, than any rants a poor mother can deliver after school. The frequently heard excuse “my maid forgot” or worse yet, “I keep on telling my maid, but she forgets” is frankly pathetic.
Not turning up for appointments, such as to doctors or to music lessons without cancelling in good time, is bad manners. It shows complete disregard for other people. People only start acting on this when they are charged for it – a crying shame!
Small offences lead to bigger ones, in concentric circles they send ripples forth. The list is endless, it never stops.
It is in all our hands to stop these trends; to create a better world. Now is a good time to start. It all starts with a smile!
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Agnes Holly has worked for more than 25 years in education ranging from university to nursery, and everything in-between. She is a qualified SEN teacher and has worked extensively with children who have dyslexia and ADHD. She has additional practical experience in the form of five of her own children aged between 6 and 23.