I was in the grocery store this morning, minding my own business when I rounded a corner and bumped into a man with an armful of groceries. He dropped all his loot and a bottle of BBQ sauce flew through the air and smashed onto the floor. The man shot me an expression to kill and shouted, “Lady, why don’t you watch where you’re going?” I thought of a number of quick comebacks but resisted. I chose to “take the high road” and offered to help him pick up his groceries but he quickly retorted with, “That’s what these guys in the store are paid for” and then he walked away, leaving me with his mess strewn all over the grocery aisle.
Earlier this morning, I came across a really cool and appropriate quote – those words of truth came to me as I stood in that puddle of BBQ sauce.
Politeness is the blossom of our humanity. Joubert
I think manners matter. Being polite requires a constant awareness of other people’s feelings. Being polite involves humility, thoughtfulness and a bridled tongue. It’s tough to think of others. Lynne Truss speaks of our culture’s predicament so beautifully when she writes that “we live in an age of lazy moral relativism combined with aggressive social insolence. Manners are vanishing down the plughole with disastrously wide-reaching consequences.”
I agree. I remember an incident that happened after I had been teaching high school for about five years. I was making my way through a maze of preoccupied students who were shuffling down a narrow hallway. My arms were full of binders and students were bumping into me, without apology. When I finally arrived at the doorway, the heavy door slammed into my face, after a group of students walked through, totally oblivious to my presence. That was the last straw. I yelled at the top of my voice, “Do y’all live in your own little world?”
Well, that sure hushed the crowd.
I had a good relationship with these students so the awkwardness turned into a great teaching moment.
A quiet and hesitant female voice spoke first. “Mrs. L., we didn’t even see you.”
“I know…but with an armful of binders, I’m kinda hard to miss, don’t you think?”
Then it happened. A young man in Grade 8 turned to me and said, “Mrs. L., truth be known, everybody lives for themselves. Being polite takes work and unless we benefit, it’s not worth it.”
For a few seconds, you could hear a pin drop in those halls. All the upper grade students just stared at this articulate and bold Grade 8 student… and I let everyone soak in the tension of the moment.
Finally, I broke the silence.
“Food for thought…let’s get to class.”
I headed into a Grade 8 classroom and for the entire fifty minutes of Science class, we had a marvellous discussion about the importance of being polite. Selective membrane permeability could wait for a day.