I was transfixed by the coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s death and funeral proceedings. The pageantry, the ritual, the lock steps, the salutes, the uniforms…I was mesmerized.
The English loved their queen. Her passing marked the end of a 70 year relationship, and so many were really sad. Children watched their parents weep, curtsy, and bow their heads in silence. Their parents’ motions were the language of their feelings as they demonstrated their respect for the crown.
While the Queen’s funeral was certainly an extreme, it made me wonder about civility and decorum in our children’s lives. Is it alive and well today?
Do parents today care enough about teaching children respectful and appropriate behaviors? Is the language of civility being taught? Of course, parents put forth effort to teach their children mannerly behaviors. Say Please. What is the magic word? What do you say to Grandma when she gives you a gift? But what about beyond the prompted expressions of manners?
I am referring to something else, something different than institutional protocol, as was the royal farewell. I am talking about the enduring behaviors that express kindness, consideration, acknowledgment of age or position, or respect.
Has a fear of offending someone directed people to give up on these lessons all together? In this day of class parity and gender equality, dare anyone even use the expression “ladylike?” A younger family member of mine (who is a Brit), father of two boys, admonished his son that his behavior was not “gentlemanly.” Can it be that parents’ efforts to even the playing field, to teach our children to stand up for themselves and to toughen up have caused us to neglect teaching old-fashioned, decorous and respectful conduct? I wonder. And I am worried. There are actions and behaviors our children need to learn because they express human consideration and mutual respect. They are a common language that speaks volumes.
I once watched a woman scold a man for holding a door for her. “I can manage the door,” she barked. Clearly, the guy was being what we used to call polite. But the woman saw only gender bias, a put down, and took offense.
I am referring to acts of civility. Has it gone out of style for a young person to relinquish his seat to someone older? What about helping someone by picking up an item accidentally dropped, or holding the door for someone else, whether going in or out? I often offer to help a person who is burdened with babies and strollers and stuff. It is the right thing to do.
To top it off, our current political environment is hardly a model for civility and respect. When did it become okay to call people derogatory names? To mock others less able than we? To be uncouth? Didn’t your parents teach you that you can think what you want, but if you can’t say something nice, keep it to yourself? It seems that we are witnessing the dismantling of respectful, considerate, and appropriate behaviors in modern society. What has happened?
What has happened to teaching our kids to do the right thing? Where has the Golden Rule gone? Corny? Yes! Necessary and needed? Yes! This conduct is beyond mannerly behavior. It is even more than decorum. It is encouraging our children to do the considerate, often selfless, sometimes just plain helpful thing, expecting nothing in return. It is nurturing their empathy. These lessons go in the tool box of behaviors that our children will carry throughout their lives. And they will pass them onto their children, just like we are passing these tools onto them.
When children are raised in an environment where decorum and considerate behaviors are modeled, it will become their norm one day. You may not see it so often at home now, they may not immediately comply with your expectations at home, and they sure may complain, but these lessons do not go unnoticed. They are being absorbed and added to their life long, behavioral template. I promise you, away from home, they hear your reminder to clear their plates when visiting a friend’s house. They fall back on the language of appropriate behavior, doing the right thing just when it is needed, all by themselves
Acting with respect, practicing considerate behaviors, demonstrating decorum are a reference points of civility in our society. It is not outdated; it is not old-fashioned. Let’s not lose it. God save the Queen!