Words from my mother reverberate in my mind, especially because it’s been one year since she was present on this Earth to speak in person. I suppose that many of us with deceased parents experience similar “flashbacks” for lack of a better word because there were decades of guiding words that provided direction for our behaviors.
“Take your elbows off the table, don’t chew with your mouth open, don’t speak with food in your mouth, say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’, respect your elders, don’t interrupt when someone else is speaking, treat people the way you want to be treated…”
If you recognize these, you may have grown up with similar guidance and parenting and hear the echoes throughout your interactions with others. I’m grateful for those whispers that recur, especially with the decline in civility and decency in recent years. The road rage, aggressive drivers, rude shoppers, impatience everywhere, some of our leaders acting in ways they should not, in spite of their commitment to be “leaders.”
I recently found a book in an antique store entitled “Don’t, a little book of early American Gentility,” by Eric Sloane, published in 1989. Mr. Sloane states in his foreword, “Don’t contains no more than the simplest rules of etiquette of its time, but my guests who skim through the pages, while thoroughly enjoying and laughing at its dated style and occasional snobbishness, always remark how pertinent its contents are to present-day life. It also shocks them to realize how far we frequently stray from the simplest habits of gentleness.”
Some excerpts from “Don’t” that are particularly interesting, not so much for their instructional direction, but more as reminders to all of us are presented next in hope that you will find them interesting “blasts from the past” but also relevant today.
Here we go, thanks to Eric Sloane.
“Don’t fail to exercise tact. If you have not tact, you at least think first about others and next about yourself, and this will go a long way toward becoming tactful.”
“Don’t show a disposition to find fault or to deprecate. Indiscriminate praise is nauseating: but on the other hand indiscriminate condemnation is irritating. One should develop a keen sense of the merits of a thing and an equally keen sense of its faults.”
“Don’t always make yourself the hero of your own stories.”
“Don’t, at any public entertainment, make a move to leave the auditorium before the performance is over. Men who recklessly and selfishly disturb public assemblies in this way have the instincts of animal society, not that of gentlemen.”
WOW! Not too sure about “the instincts of animal society,” but it IS rude! I wish I had a dollar for each of those letters about audience behavior I’ve read over the years.
“Don’t give a false coloring to your statements. Truthfulness is largely a matter of habit. Where very few people would deceive or lie maliciously, many become wholly untrustworthy on account of their habit of exaggeration and added coloring.”
“Don’t stare or laugh at any peculiarity of manner or dress. Don’t point at persons or objects. Don’t turn and look after people that have passed.”
Are we educating our children about manners? Are we setting positive examples for those around us? Can we do better? Of course, we can do better.
Maybe this little book’s reminders may hit you in a soft spot of memories that you can relate to and pass it on. We need more role models and you can be one of them, if you aren’t already. Thankfully, there are those reverberations from the past that can accompany positive directions for the future.