Manners maketh man | Sunday Observer

Manners maketh man

2 February, 2020

“Manners maketh man” is the motto of Winchester College and New College, Oxford. Anyway, what are manners? Sydney Smith says, “Manners are the shadows of virtues; the momentary display of those qualities which our fellow-creatures love and respect. If we strive to become, then, what we strive to appear, manners may often be rendered useful guides to the performance of our duties.”

H.W. Beecher saw manners in a different light. He said a man ought to carry himself in the world as an orange tree would if it could walk up and down in the garden, swinging perfume from every little censer it holds up to the air. In short, manners are polite ways of behaving in social situations.

Norman Vincent Peale has explained how a few simple rules of courtesy can provide shock absorbers for the rocky road of living. Wherever you go, you meet people quarrelling in buses, trains, post offices, banks and even on the street over minor issues. A conductor on a private bus once started shouting at an elderly passenger for not giving him the bus fare. The woman insisted that she gave him Rs 20 and did not get the balance. A foreigner who happened to be travelling on the bus could not bear the noise and gave Rs 20 to the conductor to settle the issue. That put an end to the conductor’s shouting and the woman’s screaming.

Common courtesy

In a situation like this, the difficulty could have been overcome, or might never have arisen, if the people involved in the situation had only treated each other with common courtesy. The bus conductor need not have shouted at the passenger if he had issued a ticket. He could have simply asked the woman to produce the ticket. Unfortunately, most of the private bus conductors do not issue tickets and no government has been able to discipline them.

Courtesy, politeness, good manners – call it what you like – never seem to equal the demand. Manners seem to have fled us forever when we see husbands yelling at their wives, teachers shouting at students and ordinary people engaging in verbal duels at every nook and corner. We should learn how to appreciate little things without yelling at people.

As a matter of fact, almost all human beings living in any part of the world hanker after courtesy and are repelled by the lack of good manners. On the other hand, bad manners can ruin your career or wreck a friendship. I still remember one of my colleagues who always bullied the women in his office. They could not tolerate his rude behaviour anymore and made a complaint to the management. After a disciplinary inquiry, the errant officer was summarily dismissed in the prime of his career.

Manners and morals

Some of us seem to think that manners were very common in the good old days. Why have they disappeared from our midst? A few generations ago, courtesy was enforced in society. Children were taught good manners in school and teachers ensured that their students would abide by them. Whenever we visited a wedding or a birthday party, mother used to say, “Mind your manners.” Sometimes father would protest that she was trying to place manners on par with morals. On such occasions, she would say, “Your morals do not always show, but your manners do.” Father would keep quiet as if he agreed with her.

While travelling on a long distance bus I opened the shutter to allow some air in. However, the passenger sitting next to me protested and wanted it shut. When I hesitated, he turned abusive and created a scene. When I recall this incident, my mind goes back to philosopher Eric Hoffer who said, “Kindness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” Good manners, on the contrary, are a reflection of inner strength and assurance. If we are polite to others, they will begin to like us in turn.

If courtesy is such a valuable asset, why is it so uncommon in society? According to a psychologist, we are all born self-centred. This may be the main reason for our rudeness. In order to cultivate good manners we have to place other people’s needs on a level with our own. This is a slow and painful process. However, if you are really concerned about your fellowmen, you can cultivate good manners slowly and steadily.

Sense of justice

A child may not know what is meant by sense of justice. But an adult knows that sense of justice is a major ingredient of good manners. A friend was driving along a dusty road. He could not even see the road properly due to the dust settling on the windscreen. Suddenly the car ahead of him stopped allowing him to proceed. When my friend wanted to know whether he needed any help, the driver said, “You’ve faced the cloud of dust because of my car. Now I’ll follow you giving you the benefit of driving along without facing a cloud of dust.” This is courtesy in real life.

Good manners also demand modesty from you. Someone who is modest does not want to talk about their abilities or achievements. How many of us can resist the temptation to boast of our possessions and capabilities? Any attempt to claim credit for yourself is a clear departure from politeness. I was once introduced to a visiting professor who was giving a series of lectures. While giving his visiting card to me, he said, “I’m Dr Smith (not his real name) and I have a PhD.”

You should have the common touch if you wish to cultivate good manners. If you are unable to treat all people alike, regardless of their education, or social status, you do not have the common touch. A long time ago in New York, a young black man was hurrying to catch a train. He was carrying two heavy suitcases. Then a stranger appeared and volunteered to carry one of the suitcases. After some time, the black man – Booker T. Washington – became a well-known educator. The stranger who came to help him – Teddy Roosevelt – later became the President of the United States.

Practise courtesy

If you are serious about cultivating good manners, you have only to do three things. In the first place, practise courtesy wherever you happen to be. Know your table and telephone manners. Do not talk without allowing the other person to air his views. Never fail to identify yourself.

Your thoughts matter in good breeding. You have to train yourself to be considerate. Treat the other person with utmost courtesy. Finally you can improve your manners by accepting courtesy gladly. Some of us still feel uneasy when other people treat us kindly.

When you know your manners, you will naturally feel that the world is such a pleasant place to live in.

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