My mother was always concerned about manners. The constant reminder from her anytime we went out into the world was to “mind your manners.” She had two boys who were not all that keen on etiquette, but she tried her best under difficult circumstances. It’s probably a shame she didn’t have a daughter who she could have guided through the proper upbringing with considerable attention to manners and proper civilized behavior. As the youngest son, I suffered from some of her pent up zeal for the proper way for a
girl boy to behave.
My mother’s America was a place where class didn’t matter and all people were equal, and therefore were responsible to behave in proper ways. Even at ten years of age, I knew that was nonsense. I had seen the huge houses in the rich part of town and knew that those people were different. The world treated them differently than my parents living in their nine-hundred square foot home with two bedrooms and one bath. My dad worked two jobs; days at the new air force base post office; nights and Saturday selling shoes at a local family shoe store.
The man who owned the shoe store liked my dad, or so my dad said; and had invited our family to his huge house for barbeques and other outdoor activities. I thought it odd that we always attended events at his mansion for outdoor things. My mother just said it was because they didn’t want some unruly kids breaking any of their good stuff. Yeah, sure mom, class doesn’t matter in America.
My mother’s worst attempt at civilizing me was dance class. This was to teach me to be a gentleman. I never grasped how dance class related to being a gentleman, but I seldom argued with my mother. Even when I knew she was wrong it was just easier to go along and hope for the best. The first few months of dance lessons were horrible—I was usually the only boy and the girls seemed to find great pleasure in my obvious discomfort. But after some time I started to enjoy the whole experience. I liked the girls and, big shock, I liked dancing.
Now I suppose if this was today, there would have been whispers about me being confused about my sexuality or something—but it’s the 1950s and those types of discussions were not allowed. It didn’t matter because I was not confused about my sexuality and yes, I liked girls. And at a very early age I discovered having a bunch of girls paying a lot of attention to you was not a bad thing. On the other hand, my mother may have been confused about my sexuality—there was no doubt she would have preferred her second child to have been a girl. Of course, she would have never said that; because she was too polite.
I soon progressed from dance class to baseball and my mother handed me off to my dad. It would make a good story if I could say the dance lessons made me a better baseball player; but that was not the case. My dad tried but he didn’t have my mother’s patience and I soon longed for dance class as I sat on the bench. My dad never said much but I could tell he wondered if the dance lessons had ruined my baseball career.
It seems we have lost some of our fondness for manners. My mother would be shocked at the rudeness of people today. Miss Manners wasn’t a household name yet; but if she had been writing at that time she would have been. Emily Post was the manners guru of the day. Most people believed it was an important aspect of human interaction to be polite.
Now it is often rudeness and even hatefulness that stands out as more courageous than consideration of others. Political correctness has somehow gotten mixed up in the discussion about manners. Polite, respectful people are now weak, sniveling beings afraid to say what’s really on their mind. Being direct and speaking your mind is now the honest way to interact. Fuck the consequences.
My mother didn’t live to see the downfall of civility that dominates the internet; but if she had, her advice would have been to turn it off. You’re never going to win that wresting match in the mud with a pig; just move on and ignore the foul odor.
I’ve taken criticism in reviews for my use of certain words in my books, and as a result contributing to the decline of civilization. Maybe, but I find it hard to believe that an occasional f-word tossed into a murder mystery book is driving the decline of civilization. I don’t believe the problem is our words, but the menacing tone behind those words. There is an anger in the world that hangs in the air like a foul smelling pigsty, and I don’t believe we know how to turn that off.
I think even mom might be stumped on how we get back to being polite and respectful to each other for no real reason other than it’s just the right thing to do—it’s proper behavior. As mom would say; “mind your manners!”