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Salvaging good manners

“Thank you, sir!” I faintly replied to our attentive crew on what was an unusually busy weeknight for dining out. His face suddenly beamed, clearly appreciative of the dignified address, and served us extra prawns that night. Admittedly, it was also extra gratifying for me.

Technically, a “sir” is reserved for a certain person of status rather than a casual and social address. Nonetheless, it was delightful to see how it would uplift people, particularly our attendant that night. With the nature of my work, it was something I was used to hearing so much that it became an identity I wanted to wear off. But in many other instances, “sir and ma’am” can instantly put people at ease.

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That’s what good manners are basically about—putting others at ease. As times change and adjust to what has become socially acceptable behavior, there is still no denying that good manners and right conduct can make the world a better and nicer place.

Which is probably why the House of Representatives just recently approved the bill that requires Good Manners and Right Conduct (GMRC) to be included in the current K-to-12 curriculum. It will reportedly replace the ethics classes of the students. This version of GMRC will cover topics such as intercultural diversity, gender equity, and even respect for oneself.

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It seems like a no-brainer. Of course values should be taught in schools. Intellectual skills, no matter how advanced, can be overshadowed by the lack of personal character and social skills. That GMRC is making a comeback is a good return indeed. It is a seemingly fitting response to the question that elders ask: “Where have all the manners gone?” And hasn’t that question been asked since time immemorial?

It isn’t so much that manners are being lost, as if some aged cultural artifact has been forgotten. Rather, it may largely be due to what each generation perceives to be rude or not.

For instance, when I was in high school, the etiquette book I came upon was that of Amy Vanderbilt, apparently an authority on the subject matter. Vanderbilt first published an etiquette manual in the ‘50s; an updated version is probably still in print today. We thoroughly enjoyed Vanderbilt’s manual, not so much for its applicability as for its novelty. The protocol for meeting the Pope, for example, was useful information—provided we could even have that slim chance someday.

We now operate in a far different world. In a survey late last year, 42 percent of millennial respondents said they are not willing to give up a seat for the pregnant or the elderly, and almost a third would disregard a queue. The same survey also revealed that the same respondents considered the following as rude: ignoring people on social media, reading text messages over people’s shoulders, and giving spoiler alerts. Traditional British politeness seems to be a thing of the past.

Not all is lost. Early last month, the latest edition of Emily Post’s “Etiquette” was released, and it is an interesting literary effort in response to the etiquette dilemma. First published in 1922, Emily Post is still being updated to keep up with the times. Interestingly, Post writes that people’s behavior in the past may just be as bad as ours today. It’s just that modern life makes it “more challenging to stay civil.”

The reintroduction of GMRC in the curriculum is a most welcome initiative, and the Department of Education thinks so, too. But what is more important, if not non-negotiable even, is that values formation should start at home. The education and formation of a child’s manners are first and foremost a responsibility of the parents. Lolo and lola are correct when they say that how you present yourself reflects your upbringing.

I hope that the formalization of a good manners class would raise respectful Filipino youth—but that it should also reflect the evolution of the times. Case in point: Children may very well engage with adults now, without being automatically slapped down as disrespectful.

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In the end, what we desire are people who know what is expected of them and can relate to the world around them in a civil manner. Thank you very much.

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TAGS: education, Emily Post’s “Etiquette”, GMRC, good manners
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