Available to all

No matter who we are or what we do, manners make life better for all. "Kindergarten" by Johann Sperl via Wikimedia Commons; artwork in the public domain.

No matter our age, our income, who we are or what we do, manners make life better for all.
“Kindergarten” by Johann Sperl via Wikimedia Commons; artwork in the public domain.

“The rationale that etiquette should be eschewed because it fosters inequality does not ring true in a society that openly admits to a feverish interest in the comparative status-conveying qualities of sneakers. Manners are available to all, for free.”
Judith Martin a.k.a. Miss Manners

I’m not sure how etiquette came to be equated with formal protocol at state dinners, but Miss Manners sets us straight as only she can.  If you hear anyone protesting that teaching and learning correct manners is uppity or snobbish, don’t believe it.  Courtesy is always appropriate, and it doesn’t require that we know all sorts of obscure rules that we won’t have occasion to need. It simply requires us to think of others first.

Good manners have never been my personal strength.  It’s not much comfort to me that the faux pas I’m most frequently guilty of — interrupting, talking more loudly than necessary, or thoughtlessly and unintentionally going ahead of someone who was in front of me at an elevator or doorway — now seem to be fairly typical of most everyone I observe.  The advantage of this general increase in rude behavior is that it’s made me more determined to polish up my own manners.  It’s easier to see how offensive something is when someone else does it.

Have you ever heard anyone denigrating etiquette as a bunch of outdated nonsense about which fork to use?  If so, you might suggest that they read Miss Manners.  Not only is she funny; she is practical and persuasive as she argues for the importance of courtesy as the foundation of a civil society.  The idea of etiquette can be intimidating, but if we start with the “Golden Rule” and treat others as we’d like to be treated, we’ll be more than halfway there.

One year ago today:

Of courtesy




  1. Ann

    Julia, you are so right! Good manners and common courtesy go a long way towards smoothing the rough edges of interacting with others. They are so much more than knowing which fork to use😊. Ann

    • Ann, though I never learned nearly as much about the formal rules of etiquette as I wish I had, I am gradually picking it up from watching those who are very well versed in it. Some people just seem to have a gift for responding with grace in any situation, but on looking more closely, I realize that it’s a discipline, and something that they probably learned early on. Sometimes when I see or hear someone responding to a difficult situation with the ideal demeanor, I will consciously try to remember and imitate it. Even when it doesn’t come naturally at first, practice does make it easier. Thanks for your encouraging words.

  2. Julia, I don’t find good manners a thing of the past. They are overlooked because of our shift in centeredness.
    By being less God-centered, we become more self-centered. And as a result we de-emphasize other centered.

    • Alan, I think you are exactly right about that. Self-centered behaviors seem to be the expected norm nowadays. I think a lot of it stems from impatience, too, with our high-speed world and many distractions. Maybe we are reaching a tipping point, though, where everyone will get fed up with seeing rudeness everywhere we turn, and we’ll go back to following — or at least aspiring to follow – the very high standards set by I Corinthians 13.

  3. Julia, to this day Ashley and Stephanie speak of visiting with Bill’s parents and they were expected to “dress for dinner” and that was probably when they were 6 and 8. I always told them how you eat and act at home (manners and otherwise) shows when you dine out! 🙂 This world is so casual now and though fine dining isn’t our everyday normal, I still thinks its important to feel comfortable at “The Club”! I’m laughing remembering “dinner time” growing up meant washing our hands! It’s all good! 🙂

    • One reason Jeff and I enjoy cruising is that it gives us an excuse to “dress for dinner” and not rush through the meal as we tend to do in real life. We usually eat dinner in the nice dining room every single night on the cruise, though we often go to the buffets for breakfast and lunch. In my first few years of college we had to wear dresses to classes and meals – and as an airline employee’s dependents, we had to dress up to ride passes also. I must admit that I didn’t really mind it most of the time; I think it’s true that how we are dressed can affect how we feel and act. Having said that, every day is casual day for me nowadays, even when we have to go to the doctor — although some days are more tacky slouchy casual than others! I figure there are some perks to being over the hill. 😀

      • Sheila

        Bill’s mom used to call being dressed up “social security”! 🙂
        I’ve been thinking of y’all all day.
        My heart is heavy for you.

        • Thank you, Sheila. ❤ So far everyone seems to be holding up well. It will be the weeks and months to come that will be especially hard. We so appreciate your caring and being here.

  4. Good morning, Julia! One of my grandmothers was a “Home Economics” teacher, and she took it upon herself to teach my sister and me etiquette, among other things. I remember wondering why there were so many forks and spoons, and who thought of this, anyway, but I’ll admit that I was glad to have had the lesson – the first time I sat down at a setting with multiple utensils!
    It never crossed my mind to think of it as snooty; perhaps because I was taught by someone who loved me, which isn’t snooty at all.

    • Well said, Susan! It’s never about snobbery when it is motivated by love. I learned that etiquette wasn’t snooty from watching the parents of my friend, Maggie. They were like family to me, and they were people who understood that manners were all about kindness. Because I was unaware of so many of the fundamentals of etiquette, I know I must have appeared somewhat backward when I was with them, but they never made me feel bad about it. I learned so much from watching and living with their caring and consideration. They have been gone from this earth for many years, but I miss them to this day.

  5. raynard

    Julia, I learned how to set a table when I had ” Home Ec” in middle school. Now when I go out to each” I grab silverware fast if i’m hungry( and dont check how spotty the glasses are” I digress

    • Raynard, believe it or not I never did take Home Ec at all. My mother tried to force me to take that as my elective and I wanted to take French instead. In a very, very, very rare instance of not siding with my mother, my father stuck up for me and decreed that I would be allowed to take French. I ended up taking it for four years and it got me out of a year of it in college because I was able to pass second year college French after just one quarter. But I never did learn to set a table properly. I guess life is full of trade-offs!

  6. I’ve always loved Miss Manners. I hope that common courtesy never dies.

    • Amen to that, and she makes it so much fun to read about.

  7. Michael

    I heard a talk by some futurists who were discussing what items were going to make or break us in the future. Some posited huge processes like global warming, nuclear proliferation and world war. Another mentioned that really it is the little things -like, kindness and the common courtesies of every day life that will finally ensure or doom our survival. If God is in the details then surely God is in the little common courtesies of the everyday.
    Sad day in Seattle with death of the fourth junior high student after shooting last week at Pilchuck high school. There are two survivors. She was a Native American and member of the Tulalip tribe. So much I don’t understand. She died at our level one trauma center- Harborview- where I was a chaplain intern in 2009.
    Oh-I have a retired pastor friend who would always light candles for evening dinner with his wife- now deceased. Dr.David has always been a class act. Growing up in the 60’s we were perhaps so eager to throw out the conventions of our parents that we were left with a hollow shell.

    • WOW, Michael, that last sentence of yours would be a good blog quote here, though it’s not really a “positive thinking” type observation. I do think it’s a good thing to ponder, though; how much we have lost along with all the gains. I’m currently in the beginning chapters of The End of Big by Nicco Mele, and it is certainly thought-provoking in terms of pointing out how quickly technology has changed our world, for better or worse. I do think God is present in small as well as big things. Cumulatively the little things are what add up to big things, as even the composition of atoms and molecules will demonstrate. Perhaps technologies such as broadcasting, that continually dolly back and show the huge picture (or only such parts of it as some unseen director wishes us to see) have distracted us from the tasks at hand in front of each one of us. Nobody will ever be able to defeat despair on a macro level, but each of us can defeat it in little ways, every minute of every day. I really believe that.

  8. Michael

    Not familiar with that book or writer. What is it that Maya Angelou says about a broken heart?
    A broken heart is softer, more malleable, more compassionate, more able to give and receive love, more able to give thanks, better able to receive and a conduit for care.” Something like that.
    “Its the cracks where the light gets in.”

    • I love that quote from Leonard Cohen about how the light gets in. I used it for one of my very first posts, nearly two year ago.

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