Are graces disappearing?

Published 4:45 pm Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The scenes regarding our son’s and daughter’s graduations will range from parents bursting with pride at the awards received by their progenies to those who heave great, big sighs of relief that at least this part of the journey is over!

That piece of paper known as a high school diploma will symbolize some lessons learned. To receive it there have been tests passed. It isn’t given as a token of beauty, age, wealth or other outward standards. It is earned as a matter of learning certain information. If the information is not learned and indicated on written or verbal tests, no diploma is given.

That said, can we say that all of the important information for life has been learned? Of course not. There are many other lessons in life. Life is not lived only out of a book or knowing how to do some kind of job.

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What about the ability to get along with others?

What about social graces?

What about those lessons that make life more pleasant?

What do I mean by social graces and are they important in the 21st century?

According to an online dictionary called Wikipedia, “social graces are skills used to interact politely in social situations. They include manners, etiquette (the specific accepted rules within a culture for the application of universal manners), deportment and fashion.

Among all the kinds of information thrown at our children, can we say they are learning to be members of a civil society? Do they say, “Yes sir,” and “No Ma’am” and is that important anymore? Are they being taught how to shake hands with others and introduce themselves? Would they understand the courtesy of standing when an older person walks in the room? Or offering that older person the seat in which they were sitting? Are they confident enough to look another person in the eyes?

Along about this time, you may be asking, “What century are you living in, Lynn?”

Well, I guess I’m from the old school and the last century. But has courtesy and decorum been tossed out the window? Have social graces gone with the wind? If not, who should teach them?

I can hear the professional educators now.

“We’ve got enough problems with teaching addition and subtraction and how to read. We are expected to have our students ready for the CRCT tests and, if ‘Johnny’ can’t pass the Graduation Test, his mommy and daddy are going to skin us alive! We don’t have time to teach ‘Johnny’ how to introduce himself.”

I understand, and there is no doubt, these lessons of civility should be taught at home, but we have to admit that courtesy and politeness are hard to find in some homes today. I am not saying that the responsibility should fall to the schools. Lord knows they have their hands full. Still, our children need to be taught good manners.

Why? I could answer like my parents answer me, “Because.”

“Because why?” I would ask again.

“Because I said so,” they would say.

I did not ask as the television game show host asks, “Is that your final answer?” I knew I wasn’t going to get my answer, so I just did it. It was good for the backside.

But that’s not the answer as to why we should teach our children social graces. We should teach them good manners because the world is a better place when there is courtesy and politeness. And our children are more confident in themselves when they are taught how to interact with others in a civil manner.

In our English classes, when I was in school, we took the time to learn lessons in social interaction. We would spend class time learning how to introduce ourselves to each other and how to shake hands with each other. It was kind of silly introducing your best friend to another, but I still remember how to do that today. I don’t feel that was wasted time.

I remember a teacher taking the time to discuss just how to shake a hand and how important it was to look someone in the eye when you were speaking to them. I’m not saying that is as important as correct grammar or reading, but knowing how to meet other people is part of making a first impression. Remember, there is only one opportunity to make a first impression. There may be more jobs won by the first impressions than whether one speaks the Queen’s English perfectly.

Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing. Perhaps I am suffering from selective memory and only thinking that the country was more polite when I was growing up. As it is with old people maybe I am thinking about good, ole days that never were all that. Maybe I am trying to put my old-fashioned values onto a new and different world.

Who am I to tell others how to act and what to do? Who made me king for a day? The year is 2009 and it’s time to “get with it, pops!” As the Rolling Stones (quoting the Rolling Stones proves I am old and decrepit) song says, “Hey, you, get off my cloud.” You live your way and I’ll live mine. I used to think that was a good philosophy. Now I don’t. I realize there are other people besides me.

So, I will move forward with whatever comes down the pike, but I will love to the best of my ability with no judgment toward anyone. Still, there’s something about a strong handshake and a confident, polite answer to a question that makes me feel good toward that young man or woman.

I don’t have to hear “Yes, Sir” as it relates to me, but when I am in the presence of my elders, I’m going to do my best to act just like I was raised. That means “Yes, Sir” and “No, Ma’am,” whichever is appropriate. And I’ll do it because it makes me feel good!