Where Have All the Good Manners Gone?

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Where Have All the Good Manners Gone?

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Have you noticed how crude and rude people are these days? Rarely do you find the polite, patient, chivalrous gentleman or refined lady in our fast-paced world.

Television shows do not help much. With the advent of shows like the rude, crude American comedy hit South Park that debuted a few years ago and the purposefully obnoxious Jerry Springer Show, it’s no wonder our manners are slipping.

Newsweek magazine calls the TV comedy South Park “gleefully offensive and profoundly silly,” a show that “revels in juxtaposing cute and crude, jaded and juvenile.” The article described the show as the coolest schoolyard craze since MTV’s coarse Beavis and Butt-Head. What’s next? I shudder to think about it.

William Kilpatrick, in his book Why Johnny Can't Tell Right From Wrong, talks about the difference in problems facing educators today compared to a few decades earlier. In the 1950s, he said, the concern was “why can’t Johnny read.” Now, however, the problems run much deeper.

Dr. Kilpatrick states: “In addition to the fact that Johnny still can’t read, we are now faced with the more serious problem that he can’t tell right from wrong… An estimated 525,000 attacks, shakedowns, and robberies occur in public high schools each month. Each year nearly three million crimes are committed on or near school property—16,000 per school day. About 135,000 students carry guns to school daily; one-fifth of all students report carrying a weapon of some type.

“Twenty-one percent of all secondary school students avoid using the rest rooms out of fear of being harmed or intimidated. Surveys of schoolchildren reveal that their chief school-related concern is the disruptive behavior of their classmates. Teachers have similar concerns. Almost one third of public school teachers indicate that they have seriously considered leaving teaching because of student misbehavior” (1992, p. 14).

Striking contrast in school problems

Dr. Kilpatrick contrasts what classroom teachers identified as the greatest threats to the educational process in 1940 compared to today. In 1940, the first problem on teachers’ lists was talking out of turn. Today it is drug abuse. The number two concern in 1940 was chewing gum; today it is alcohol abuse. In 1940, the third-ranked problem was making noise; number three today is pregnancy.

The fourth most-pressing problem in 1940 was running in the halls; today it is suicide. Fifth, sixth and seventh on the list in 1940 were getting out of line, wearing improper clothing and not putting paper in the wastebasket; today they are rape, robbery and assault (Kilpatrick, p.100).

“During the past 30 years, we have witnessed a profound shift in public attitudes,” says former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett. He refers to polls showing that “we Americans now place less value on what we owe others as a matter of moral obligation; less value on sacrifice as a moral good, on social conformity, respectability, and observing the rules; less value on correctness and restraint in matters of physical pleasure and sexuality—and correlatively greater value on things like self-expression, individualism, self-realization, and personal choice” (as quoted by Robert Bork in Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 1996, p. 65).

Former U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork goes on to say that “our current set of values is inhospitable to the self-discipline required for such institutions as marriage and education and hospitable to no-fault divorce and self-esteem training” (ibid.).

The problem is certainly greater than a lack of proper manners. Learning to respect other people and their property is fundamental to a civilized world. Our conduct should reflect the golden rule, treating others as we would like to be treated. Some great advice is given in the Bible: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).

Where does this wisdom come from? Recently someone gave me a book on manners written in 1932. In that book, the author apologized for having to write about things that were so well known. I remember hearing from my parents lots of instruction on proper behavior as a young man. Whatever happened to that old cliché “Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?” I’ve remembered that phrase and occasionally repeated it myself when my teenagers’ friends invaded our home showing just a little too much enthusiasm and too little refinement.

Guidelines for parents

A time is coming, under Jesus Christ’s rule, when right conduct and respect for others will be an integral part of civilization. Until that time arrives, parents should follow the clear teaching in Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “…These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” These words referred to statutes and judgments or proper behavior that allowed ancient Israel to be well advanced in matters of morality, citizenship, decorum and even hygiene.

In later times, even the classic Greek philosophers noted that teaching children right conduct was vital. Plato, in his Republic, observed: “You know that the beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for this is the time in which the character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily taken… Shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?

“We cannot… Anything received into the mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts… Then will our youth dwell in a land of health, amid fair sights and sounds, and receive the good in everything; and beauty, the effluence of fair works, shall flow into the eye and ear, like a health-giving breeze from a purer region, and insensibly draw the soul from the earliest years into likeness and sympathy with the beauty of reason. There can be no nobler training than that.”

Teach your children well

Make a difference in the lives of your children. Teach them proper decorum in dress, including modesty. Impress on them the need to avoid lewd and crude behavior and do not tolerate it in your home. Perhaps censoring what appears on TV in your home would also be wise.

The path of western civilization seems to be following the decline of other major world powers of bygone centuries. The apostle Peter, when referring to the present evil world, asked an important question for Christians today: “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11, emphasis added).

Resist the cold self-centeredness and rudeness of today’s culture, and strive to be as God would have us be—caring, respectful and courteous.

Please visit our Web site www.ucg.org to find other articles on child rearing and how to direct your children along the proper path in life. You can request free literature on this and many other subjects applicable to everyday life.