Aleteia

Why manners are the glue that holds society together

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Common courtesy is making a comeback, and we think Pope Francis might be pleased.

Since the 1980s, the use of good manners has come to be perceived as a little outdated. It all started with a rebellious generation in search of freedom; they no longer felt the need for those little “magic” words” of “please” and “thank you.” Luckily, today, good old common courtesy is making a comeback, which will, we hope, help us to live together in harmony. A lot of us will be sighing with relief! While such courtesies may seem to some people to be an empty formality, there’s actually a lot more to those cursory “hellos” or “thanks” than meets the eye.

Good manners are not just fundamental for social cohesion: they are also at the heart of our Christian values. They are synonymous with respect and humility, and they demonstrate a certain amount of equality between men and women. Those same values are essential in being able to love, to be kind, or to do good deeds on a daily basis.

Let’s take a look at the real importance of common courtesy in everyday life, for people of all ages. And let’s discover the three expressions Pope Francis believes are key to the well-being of the family, and society as a whole.

Good manners are the core of a fulfilling social life

Politeness is like a code between individuals, whether used at the heart of the family, between friends or in the professional arena. It’s an easy way of sending a message. By saying “hello” in the morning to our children, “thank you” to a local storekeeper, or “please” to a colleague, we’re acknowledging that person as an individual and demonstrating their importance to us, and to society. This helps to create a sense of togetherness, and illustrates how good manners are key to allowing individuals to develop within a group, and not feel marginalized.

Beyond creating good relationships, good manners are also linked to courtesy and empathy. They encourage kindness in others, and respect for each other. During an argument or a conflict, politeness improves our ability to convince others, reduces tension, and encourages others to calm down. In other words, manners are a key tool for communication, allowing us to live in harmony with each other.

Good manners are a first lesson in respect

Teaching our children the rules of good manners gives them the key to growing up in society, and helps shape their personality. Even from the youngest age, our little ones need to understand and, increasingly as they grow, follow the different codes of conduct. This will help our children to learn the importance of treating each other how they would like to be treated. Simple rules of social etiquette will allow them to develop empathy, and remind them of the importance of equality between different individuals.

It’s easy to pass on these good manners to our children: we must simply show them the way. We all know how young children love to mimic their parents, so bear this in mind when you’re out and about, and when you’re in the comfort of your own home. If children see positive interactions around them they will follow your lead. As they get older, you can drive the point home by explaining why we need to be polite — that there is meaning behind these so-often-perfunctory, simple words. Used with heart and soul, they embody what it is to love our neighbor.

Good manners are essential to Christian values

A number of Christian values gravitate around politeness. Just look at forgiveness, whether we ask for it, or grant it. The principal reason for asking for forgiveness is to recognize humbly our failures, which should also dispose us to forgive others, echoing the Our Father. Pope Francis included this key aspect of good manners in his General Audience on May 13, 2015, when he asked the faithful — particularly couples — to use three essential terms of politeness: “May I?,” Thank you,” and “Pardon me.” He emphasized the need to always keep peace: “Marital life is so often torn apart by fights … the plates will even start flying. But let me give you a word of advice: never end the day without making peace with one another.” This is something we should remember on a daily basis!

If you have the time, take a further look at what Pope Francis has to say on the subject of manners, and his reminder that “A Christian who does not know how to thank has lost the very ‘language’ of God.”

This article was originally published in the French edition of Aleteia, and has been translated and/or adapted here for English-speaking readers.

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