My young son is just beginning to talk. He has two favorite words. These are two words we encourage all children to say. They are, as we say “magic words.” Those words are “thank you.”
And this is a problem.
You see, he says thank you whenever you hand him something. He even goes beyond that; he even says thank you whenever he hands you something. And when he tackles his sisters, pulls their hair and takes their toys, he says “thank you” too. It’s hard to discipline the little squirt when he’s so polite.
It goes to show that politeness goes a long way. I should know, because I certainly have a long way to go. For example, I’m never quite sure, on social occasions, if I should wear my black tie or my white tie. Of course I’m kidding. That’s ridiculous. I never attend social occasions.
Occasionally I’ll go to a restaurant where they have more than one fork. Which one do you use? Well, I’m telling you. The waiters don’t know. The people you are eating with don’t know. Nobody in the restaurant knows. In fact, the forks sometimes look exactly the same. There are multiple courses at these restaurants, but they only consist of “salad” and “not salad.” So go ahead, use whatever fork you want. No one will mind.
I was trained to open doors for ladies, but now that’s looked down upon because it might make the ladies look weak. So if we open the door, we are male chauvinists. But if we don’t open the door, we don’t appreciate women, and so we are male chauvinists. Sometimes, we men just can’t win. I’m sure this was someone’s master plan.
I do open the door for my wife. And it’s not because I think she is weak. I mean, she is hauling a toddler, a purse, a diaper bag, a Minnie Mouse backpack, a Hello Kitty backpack, and the hand of another toddler. Opening the door is the least I could do. Seriously.
There’s sometimes talk about the improprieties of the rising generation, which not only doesn’t know proper etiquette, but also seems a little clueless that such rules ever existed. Their fancy dinners have only one fork, one spoon, and a knife wrapped up in a paper napkin. How are we ever going to teach them to stand when someone enters a room or take their hat off indoors? Those rules were still around when I was younger, and I at least knew them even if I didn’t always follow them.
However, a generations cluelessness is pretty common, and doesn’t last forever. But I have to say this about the rising generation, the children of today: except for a few bad apples, etiquette is out, and niceness is in. They don’t know how to keep the conversation only to the weather, or even have a complete conversation that is not on a screen, but when called upon to care, they do, deeply. If they see a way to do good in the world, they do it.
My young son can take a lesson from them. Etiquette is not enough to excuse bad behavior, like saying “thank you” after taking something that is not yours. Luckily, I think he’ll figure it out in time. Most people do.
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