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Raising Ladies and Gentlemen: The Reformation of Manners

  • Charles Colson
  • Published Jun 11, 2004
Raising Ladies and Gentlemen: The Reformation of Manners

Miss Clarke, a teacher at a Christian school in northern Virginia, described the reaction from her students when she began teaching etiquette. "When we got to the section about table manners," she said, "the students were completely perplexed. 'People do that?' they said to me." She observed that etiquette at the dinner table and elsewhere is foreign to kids because they're coming from homes where everyone's on a different schedule and the families rarely sit down together for meals. Even in these Christian homes, there was no regular time and place to learn good manners.

Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners, commented on another challenge to etiquette: that is, adults who make remarks to children like, "Don't call me 'sir'-that makes me feel old." Or "Why are you getting up? Do I look as if I'm too old to stand?" One mother noted that adults will tease her children for addressing them as "ma'am" or "sir."Sadly, reactions like those make raising ladies and gentlemen a real challenge.

I'm glad to say that many parents, especially mothers, keep trying in spite of obstacles. And now Karen Santorum, the wife of Senator Rick Santorum, has put together a wonderful resource that every family should have in their home-and every school in the library. This beautifully illustrated book is called Everyday Graces: A Child's Book of Good Manners.

Rather than a list of "dos and don'ts," Karen Santorum has compiled stories and poems to illustrate how we ought to treat one another. Thus she taps into a child's imagination to help him understand about his own dignity and how to show respect to others. After all, manners are an outward expression that acknowledges human dignity in everyone.

Karen uses writings from Beatrix Potter, C. S. Lewis, Mark Twain, Max Lucado, and others-pretty good lineup. Under the section on "Good Manners at Home," she includes a Shel Silverstein poem about taking out the garbage to address doing chores. Under "Using Words Wisely," she includes "Mercury and the Woodsman" by Aesop, a tale about telling the truth. And to teach proper use of utensils, she includes a poem titled "Never Poke Your Uncle with a Fork." Each poem and story is followed by questions for discussion.

When William Wilberforce set out to "reform manners" in eighteenth-century England, he sought "to eliminate public corruption and promote religion in the hearts of the people," in order "to resist the spread of open immorality," writes Kevin Belmonte in Hero for Humanity. Well, "manners" in a lesser sense than the vision Wilberforce pursued is the beginning of such a reformation in our society.

It fits into the "broken windows" theory-the idea that if "small" problems, like loitering and turnstile-jumping at the subway, are eliminated, then larger crimes will, in turn, diminish. And this has proven to be true. In the same way, teaching manners prevents the "windows" from being broken in the first place, thus creating safer communities. Mrs. Santorum's book is an invaluable resource in reaching this worthy goal.

Creating a civil society begins with the words please and thank you -- simple terms any two-year-old can learn, words usually taught to us first by our mothers. God bless every mother for your role in civilizing our communities and reforming our culture.

Copyright © 2004 Prison Fellowship

"BreakPoint with Chuck Colson" is a daily commentary on news and trends from a Christian perspective. Heard on more than 1000 radio outlets nationwide, BreakPoint transcripts are also available on the Internet. BreakPoint is a production of The Wilberforce Forum, a division of Prison Fellowship: 1856 Old Reston Avenue, Reston, VA 20190.