“When virtue is lost, benevolence appears, when benevolence is lost right conduct appears, when right conduct is lost, expedience appears. Expediency is the mere shadow of right and truth; it is the beginning of disorder”―Lao Tzu
There cannot be any qualms about good conduct and decent manners. As Swami Sivananda says: “If you do not know the laws of right conduct, you cannot form your character.” Unfortunately, these days we are teaching our children everything but fine manners. The art of conducting oneself in a courteous style is on the decline and now mostly one gets to experience harshness or lack of care at the hands of both acquaintances and strangers. Somehow or the other a bizarre idea of not stopping children from whatever they are doing has crept into the mindset of young parents who consider it against child psychology to take stern actions or verbally reprimand when their kids are found misbehaving, acting stubborn or refusing to taste the food placed before them. Making things worse, the young brats today have learnt to get their way using methods that cause embarrassment to their frustrated parents, who willingly accede to their unreasonable demands.
Majority children are by nature curious and destructive and when these qualities are coupled with high energy, the result can be well imagined. Give a child a toy and after a while all that would be left are its mutilated pieces. If it is a musical one, the source of sound would stand explored, if it is mechanical like a car, it would be dismantled, perhaps in search of the person behind wheels, anything rubbery would probably be chewed off and of course a mother’s cosmetics and personal items invoking the greatest interest can never be secure in a child’s hands.
The most frightening aspect of indifferent parents and unruly children visiting the homes of their relatives or friends is when the prying ones who are unable to sit still start poking their nose around, much to the alarm of the horrified hosts. Any dangling decoration could be pulled off, crystal pieces might end up shattered, items maybe moved to serve their convenience, drawers and rooms could be inspected for fun, drinks could be spilled on the floor, staircase bannisters maybe used to slide down, some may even go to the extent of messing with sensitive objects like the music system or television—this is a forever list. All this occurs when the parents show a least-pushed attitude with no concern for their children going on a rampage and feel no remorse for their host’s loss nor make an attempt to restrain their young ones from inflicting harm.
During this time, dilemma of the hosts is apparent from the anxious look on their faces and their helplessness in refraining from stopping or scolding their guests’ naughty imps. Some might dare to use physical force to hold back such kids but it may come at the cost of marring relationship with or invoking anger of their guests. Many hosts who have had troubling experiences or faced mortifying situations, ensure that children, especially toddlers and tweens are off the list of invitations. Hosts with mature kids themselves are prone to dislike the presence of kids in their homes therefore they prefer not to invite those who may be in the process of raising a young family.
The big problem these days is the lack of capability in parents to teach good manners to their offspring. Many think that schools are responsible for this whereas the truth is that manners are acquired at home. Schools are meant to learn reading, writing and gain knowledge where children bring value systems of their homes. Whether it is respect for the teachers or care for fellow class-mates, only sensible parents can instill these in their children. There can be no alternative to manners meaning polite and good social behavior and only the sophisticated ones know their worth. They understand that manners are crucial for not only peace and harmony in a society but also contribute towards the self-image of people making them feel good about themselves. Such people give and earn respect, appreciate others and get appreciated, show care and consideration. In short, they are instrumental in building healthy relationships and friendships.
Pier Forni, professor at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, who died in 2018 at the age of 67 said: “The rules of good manners are the traffic lights of human interaction. They make it so that we don’t crash into one another in everyday behavior.” This is probably a compelling example about the importance of good manners and the earlier this is understood the better it is for individuals and the society as a whole.
Teaching manners to children is not a big deal for parents. All they need to do is lead by example by speaking politely to them and of course others, frequently using the phrases ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’, showing respect to others having due regard for views they hold, being good listeners, acknowledging significance of good manners, helping to create a congenial environment for youngsters so that they observe manners naturally without appearing pretentious. It has long been realised that good manners are fundamental to maintain order and civility in social interactions. Children who display good manners are cherished by all who come into contact with them. They are noticed, appreciated, loved, are also in great demand for any occasion besides bringing a good name for their virtuous parents and adding to the pleasant environment of educational institutions in particular, making it conducive for learning.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).