Whenever I was invited to someone’s home, I was expected to go there with a set of rules that I was given since birth. I actually think my mother began her program on manners when I was in utero. The list was endless. “Don’t interrupt when an adult is speaking to you, don’t begin eating until your host does, no elbows on the table, eat small bites, gnawing on a big piece of meat is akin to looking like a dog, make your bed and leave the room as neat as possible, ask if you can help clean up after dinner, look at whomever is speaking to you, say please, and thank you, and try to engage in conversation rather than simply saying ‘whatever or I don’t know’. And last but not least send a thank you note.”
Does the above sound daunting? Is it over the top ? You might think so, but the fact of the matter is that a great majority of my contemporaries were brought up the same way. I’m sure there are many parents that are still teaching these important values, but the society in general is showcasing a lack of respect for skills that help make the world a kinder more gracious place.
I first noticed this shift many years ago when one of my distant relatives visited with a couple of their children. They walked in the door without so much as a hello, and began their litany of demands. “Can we go to the movies? Is there any ice cream? Does she have any toys?” Now I don’t know about you, but my mother always used to ask me who was “she”. Does she have a name? Her go to metaphor always followed, “She is the cats mother”! I still don’t know how that related and I still don’t.
The first hour they were visiting my cousin must have asked them a few hundred questions about what they wanted to eat, what they wanted to do, or where they wanted to go. I began to feel that I was part of an interrogation unit for the FBI. They could not possibly navigate this chaos of choice. She filled up bowls with fruit loops and milk, brought out Barbie Dolls, paper and crayons and more. There was not one thank you nor did they clean up after themselves. When I questioned her about this, she said they were just kids and should have as much fun as possible.
Needless to say, their visit became pleasant when they left. These children have grown up to be self absorbed and totally indifferent to anyones else’s needs. The messages we receive about our place in the world is an incredibly important one. We need to know we are not the center of the universe but rather a part of it.