Ask yourself the following question – can a man still be called a gentleman without money? Without status? How about without good manners?
I’ve asked this question often, and always seem to get the same response – if you want to be treated like a gentleman, good manners are essential – hence why I felt it important to write a post about this.
Despite this, there are some who might argue that, living in a far more liberal time as we do, the concept of manners is becoming outdated.
Keith Thomas highlights in his book ‘In Pursuit of Civility‘ (2018) that, in modern society, hierarchies are less obvious than they used to be, people are more relaxed in everything from clothing to how they treat each other, and we no longer have the same level of respect for large institutions, such as the church or the Monarchy, that we once did. Self-control can even be seen as something that inhibits self-expression, and as psychologically unhealthy (Thomas 2018, p335/6).
It is true that, historically, manners were at their most prominent during the Victorian era and they have undoubtedly changed and eased as time has progressed. But I think most people would agree that good manners are still as important now as they have ever been.
Here’s some of the reasons that I’ve found why this is the case, and I would love to add to this, so encourage you to add your comments:
We Are All Social Beings
Regardless of time or place, very few people live in isolation. As Thomas Low Nichols discusses in his book ‘How to Behave‘ written back in 1873, we are all social beings who need to work together for the common good, and that “the welfare and happiness of society depends upon the behaviour of it’s members to each other – upon what we call manners” (p40).
Manners are a way for us to get along with each other, and so are something that has a real effect on people’s wellbeing.
In many circumstances, we are in danger of treating people like they are obstacles in our way. A good example of this is when we’re driving. Next time you’re rushing around just remind yourself that most of us are after the same thing… just trying to get from one place to another (hopefully) as safely as possible.
By Acting With Good Manners, We Show Respect To Others…And We Also Gain Respect:
Whether it be a display of good table manners at home or in a restaurant, saying please and thank you when making a transaction, or saying “excuse me” rather than pushing through a crowd, acting with good manners shows respect for other people and can affect all of our relationships, be it with complete strangers or friends and family.
Let’s face it – there aren’t many people who want to be around someone who is rude and selfish for very long!
It might have become a cliche but the passage from Matthew 7:12 of the New Testament, known as ‘The Golden Rule’, will always be relevant and states: “whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them” …or as I was told in school: “do as you want to be done by”.
Respect is also a reciprocal arrangement. If you show people respect they will feel valued and will be more likely to repeat the good behaviour and treat you with respect in return.
Another relevant biblical phrase is “give and you shall receive” (Luke 6:38). If you do something nice for someone they invariably want to do something nice for you in return. Again…this is part of being social beings. If you’re trying to be a good boss, manager, parent…any role where you need people to co-operate with you, acting with good manners is essential.
(With the Above Reasons in Mind) Manners Help You be More Assertive
The more I think about it the more I realise how much good manners are linked to assertiveness.
To be assertive is to create a ‘win-win’ situation for you and the person you’re requesting something from – whether it be making a complaint, talking to your boss, or trying to get your children to tidy up; to understand your rights and responsibilities, as well as those of others.
If you state what you want clearly, with a respectful please and thank-you, providing of course that it’s a reasonable request, I’m sure you’re more likely to get what you want. At the very least, you will open up a constructive dialogue and reduce the likelihood of hostility or anxiety.
Showing Good Manners Can Increases Your Confidence.
You might wonder how…but think about it for a second. Have you ever given up your seat for someone on a bus? Helped them with directions when someone has felt completely lost? Had someone simply say “thank you” for treating them well?
I’ve already discussed the idea of reciprocity, but it also often feels good to act in a considerate manner. It’s a bit like the ‘you mother would be proud of you’ effect. And whilst you might argue that praise and reward shouldn’t be expected, sometimes a little acknowledgement can make us feel good and increase the likelihood that we’ll do it again….and each time we do we reinforce these little positive patterns of behaviour and that can only be good for us and for society.
In terms of confidence, when a pattern of behaviour becomes normal, it also removes a degree of ambiguity from a situation – we know how to act. If we suddenly find ourselves in polite company, at the dining table, for example, and we know the appreciate behaviour, we can feel more at ease.
It Benefits Your Children
If you have children and want them to do well in life, then teaching them good manners has to be a good place to start but, most importantly, you need to show them what this looks like.
You don’t need to look far for evidence that supports the idea that children learn more by observation and imitation than they do if they are repeatedly told to do something, but witness people (parents in particular) doing the opposite. With children, what you do is far more important than what you say, so if you always show good manners, your children are likely to follow your example and this will be repaid in the way they act towards you and others.
Manners are a social skill that needs to be learnt as early as possible, for all the reasons we have discussed and more.
If I’m out with my son and he spontaneously says please and thank you, people smile and are happy to help him. If he sees other children playing a game and says “excuse me, can I please join in?” they usually say yes.
It’s no secret that polite children are a pleasure to be around, and other children are more likely to want to play with them.
I know that these are just some of the reasons that manners are important and would like to add to this over time.
Do you have any other reasons you would like to add? Or do you think manners are out dated? Please leave a comment.
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Bibliography & References:
(please be aware that I’m part of the Amazon Affiliate programme, so if you buy anything through the links provided, I may get a small percentage. This helps towards the blog and I only ever paste links to things I recommend)
Hartley, C.B (2015) The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness. Xist Publishing.
Low Nichols, T. (1873; 2015) How To Behave. Amberley Publishing
Thomas, K. (2018) In Pursuit of Civility, Manners and Civilisation in Early Modern England. Yale University Press.
Toksvig, S. (2013) Peas & Queues, The Minefield of Modern Manners. Profile Books.