There's an old saying that charity begins at home. So does courtesy.
I was packed in line at the drugstore, behind a woman and her kids, when
one of the kids called someone "big mutt."
The kid didn't really say "big mutt" but this being a family newspaper, you
can do a little rhyming and figure it out for yourself.
The mother responded in a calm and syrupy tone, saying, "That's not very
So the kid keeps squirreling around on the end of the shopping cart and
totally ignores the mother, because inside the kid is thinking, "Yeah, I
wonder if we're going to stop for burgers on the way home. And ice cream."
Maybe I was in a mood, but if it was my kid, I would have gently squeezed
that muscle atop the shoulder, glared at the kid and hissed, "Knock it off."
But being that this was an excessively patient mother, she did none of
that. Instead she said, "You shouldn't talk like that in public."
OK, now we're getting somewhere.
Then the woman continues. "It's OK to say those kind of things at home, but
not in public."
Wait a minute.
It's not very nice for the kid to call names in the drugstore, but it is
acceptable to do it at home?
I considered snatching the intercom and calling for a reality check at
We have our brains in a knot if we think good manners among strangers are
more important than good manners among family. I won't argue that under
certain circumstances it is easier to be kind to a stranger than to someone
you live with, or are related to by birth, but that's no excuse.
Think with me here. Doesn't it make sense to be the most kind, the most
courteous, and the most thoughtful to those you spend the most time with?
The rules of etiquette were not birthed as a blue-blood competition to see
who could extend a pinky the farthest while sipping tea. Manners came into
being out of necessity. They are rules of conduct that help us get along
and, on a good day, show thoughtfulness and consideration for others.
Take the rule about the salt and pepper traveling together. Someone may ask
for the salt, but you pass the pepper as well, because the person who wants
the salt might eventually want the pepper. This is basic consideration.
The rules of etiquette help make us more likable to those around us. I
know. Hard to believe, but we can sometimes be irritating grunting
one-word answers, not acknowledging someone who has spoken, growling "good
morning" and leaning on the table as though it were a chaise longue.
Consideration for others might also include things like your sound system
not blowing the doors off a car two vehicles away, hiking your pants up so
the world isn't exposed to your underwear, hiding that belly roll under a
longer tank top and giving the cell phone a rest when you're paying at the
Rudimentary courtesy, table manners and good grooming provide a soft
padding to our naturally ragged edges. The training ground and practice
field for social skills remains where it has always been the home.