Sunday, March 27, 2011

Modern Day Etiquette: Teaching Kids Manners

I watched my aunt scold my nephews the other day about above-the-table texting and having their ipod buds in their ears. I have no problem with scolding them (I think those behaviors are rude also) but she never explained why they're rude. If she simply explained to them that it's polite to give your guests your full attention then it would probably sink in better.

I thought it was rather amusing that the type of etiquette she was teaching was so... modern. It makes sense that as times change, rules and etiquette should change. In the past, men worried about defending the honor of their families, now, it's about where we hold our phones and have our headphones. I think the important thing to teach kids is that most of etiquette boils down to politeness and practicality. I never remember actually sitting down with my parents and going over a tedious list of manners, but I can remember having a fancy dinner and hearing my mom say, "We use the utensils from the outside-in because it's closer to our hands." I also learned that holding doors, pulling seats, and walking on the outside are gentlemanly things to do because it makes things easier (or safer).

I don't think chivalry is dead and I don't think it's as hard as people make it out to be. As long as parents teach kids to keep others in mind, being a polite gentleman should be natural.

At least you aren't

It bothers me when people try to compare drastically different situations.

For example, I'll be telling my friend about a problem I'm having and they'll say something like, "Well, at least you aren't in Japan right now!" Well, no shit. I guess their point is that my problems pale in comparison with those across the Pacific and that I should be a little more grateful for the things that I do have. I concede that my problems are not as bad as being crushed by a wall of water or dealing with nuclear radiation, but I am bothered by that kind of comparison-based thinking.

Just because someone has it worse than you doesn't mean you can't be sad. Just because someone has it better than you doesn't mean you can't be happy.

I'll admit that I'm guilty of that kind of thinking too. Just the other day I saw my brother struggling with a video game and I thought to myself, "Bah, kids these days are soft, back in my day there weren't online forums or guides."

When is comparison based thinking a good idea? I suppose when the person you're talking to has lost a grip on reality and really needs a reminder to get out of their bubble. If a person is having a heart attack because they broke a finger nail it might be appropriate to say, "Calm down! At least you aren't a starving kid in Africa!" However, if a person is telling you their problems looking for sympathy or empathy it's probably a bad idea to trivialize their problems by saying, "It's okay! At least we aren't Jews during the Holocaust!"