I was raised in the South and manners have always been both expected and required. To this day I can barely bring myself to call a friend’s mom by her first name without adding “Miss” before it. I was taught ma’am and sir, please and thank you from the moment I started forming sentences. I think it’s important to observe conventional manners and etiquette and I’m trying to raise my children with the same convictions about these things. Sadly, if I were to use a sampling of the adults I interact with in the professional world as a barometer for the amount of importance society currently places on manners, I’d say the forecast was bleak.
I was going to start off by saying that few things annoy me, but I realized that is a lie from the pit of hell, so I scratched it. There are plenty of things that annoy me, but very few of them cause me to get my feathers ruffled. When basic manners and common courtesy are regularly thrown on the back-burner of a majority of my daily interactions, you can bet it annoys me to the point that my hypothetical feathers get somewhat ruffled. And yours should, too!
We have found ourselves in an age where it’s never been easier to dismiss a request, to ask for something we want without shame, and to skip going to the trouble of saying please or thank you. For instance, late Friday afternoon a co-worker sent me an email asking me to take the lead on a project that was going to take me a significant amount of time outside of normal working hours . It was also going to take actual brain power to complete. I finished the assignment and e-mailed it to him on Saturday evening only to be met with a quick reply that said something like “Can you sort it by column A and change the yellow highlights to blue”. I don’t mind sorting a column or changing the color of highlighted cells. What I don’t particularly like is the cold, unappreciative tone. I certainly don’t need to be thanked for doing my job (something I often hear people giving millennials a hard time about), but if I’m going above and beyond then it would be nice if a quick please and thank you could be thrown in the mix with the request to do more on my day off.
I’ll give another example of an interaction on Friday that illustrates this point. It was with my co-worker, Schmoop-doggy-dogg. I was in a time crunch with an urgent request to put together a chart in a PowerPoint slide for a presentation. It was one I’d never seen before. I called the two excel gurus in my life and couldn’t reach either of them. Since it was urgent I decided to swallow the very teeny tiny amount of pride I might have had in the moment and emailed him asking if he knew the type of chart and could point me in the right direction. He was kind enough to send it and ended the email with “Let me know if you have any questions.” Seems nice so far, right? Hang with me…
I quickly skimmed the tutorial and tried to plug my numbers into the template he had sent me. It almost worked. I’d say 80% of it came out flawlessly. But then I couldn’t figure out why the other 20% wouldn’t show up at all. I moved numbers, shifted numbers, shifted cells, squinted my eyes, took a few deep meditative breaths, possibly cursed, and decided that I was going to have to ask for clarification. I asked him if he would glance at it and let me know what I needed to do to get the other 20% to show up on this chart. It was met with crickets. And really, whatever. I mean honestly, it’s not the end of the world. I’m pretty good with inserting shapes in Microsoft applications so I made it happen, but it wasn’t a legit chart by any means. I’ll paste special instead of embedding it in the presentation you can be certain, but it’ll work for the moment. Just why? I’m not annoyed so much by his lack of response as I am by the fact that he told me to let him know if I had any questions and then when I did, he switched to shut down mode. He should’ve just left out the sentence “let me know…” if he didn’t mean it, right? I wouldn’t have cared. I also wouldn’t have asked him anything. And truthfully, the chart was so complex and hard to understand that I almost responded with a comical list of all of the questions I had about the spreadsheet. Thankfully, I quickly remembered his sense of humor is turned permanently to the “off” position when I’m involved. His loss, by the way. I decided against it and went with the one question above. It turns out it was apparently one too many.
Although these are minor annoyances, I don’t really ever want to just get used to a world without manners and kindness. There are a lot of people who don’t see value in these things anymore, and I strongly disagree. The underlying principle is to treat others how you want to be treated. Everything is not all about you – it’s about others, too. Manners create a protocol for how we interact with others. So why are so many parents no longer putting an emphasis on the importance of these things?
We need to do better. Through my parenting experiences thus far I have realized that children are born with all kinds of innate abilities and talents. Using manners/being polite is not one of them. They have to be taught these things. In a world that is becoming more digital and detached these things are every bit as important as they were years before the digital age. It’s very easy to depersonalize things that are sent to a screen when you don’t have to see or hear the impressions they give the person on the receiving end, but it should. Behind almost every email or text there is a human interaction taking place. You don’t have to fix your hair or brush your teeth or pour me a cup of tea. All I’m asking for is a little bit of kindness. Will you please think about it?
Currently playing in the soundtrack of my mind: I’ll Stand by You by The Pretenders. I heard it while sitting in the waiting room of the orthodontist’s office and have literally been singing it out loud all. day. long.