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Manners Are the Great Equalizer

Imagine that you are at a dinner party with two guests seated across from you. Guest A is pleasant to everyone, however, they use the incorrect forks with courses and never use a knife. Guest B holds and uses their silverware perfectly, however, they make mean comments about others and make fun of Guest A for not holding their spoon correctly. Of the two, who do you think is the rude person?

Exactly. I'd rather spend an evening with kind Guest A than mean Guest B any day.

The word "manners" comes from the Latin word for hand, manus, because it is a way of handling yourself around others. Knowing how to properly treat people through politeness is not only important to our soul, but science has now confirmed that it is important to our body.

Pier Forni, Ph.D., is the co-founder of The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, which studies the importance of civility, manners, and politeness.

Dr. Forni states, "As relational skills based on empathy, good manners prove crucial when it comes to establishing and maintaining connection and rapport...As hyper-social beings, our happiness or unhappiness depends, to a large extent, upon the quality of our relationships. As a general rule, better manners mean more harmonious relationships and thus an increased quality of life."

Since manners correlate with happiness, it would be reasonable to teach them to everyone. But experts state this is not occurring with the majority of today's children.

Dr. Berry Brazelton, author and pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital, wrote, "In past generations, teaching a child manners was an important part of early training. Today, manners still matter, but children today may be cheated of the opportunities to think generously about others. We are in a hurry, and most families are stressed. Manners may be left out or forgotten. This is unfortunate. I always urge parents to start in early childhood to teach manners and to demonstrate respect for each other."

It is very sad that, for those young people who are not being taught good manners, they will likely have less sensitivity to someone's value. We show value to someone in a serving position, such as waiter or cashier, by thanking them for bringing us food or handing us change. We show value to a child by saying please when we ask for something. We show value to a spouse by politely listening and not interrupting as they are speaking.

As I wrote in my first etiquette post, manners take discipline. It is speaking kindly to someone you live with when they drive you crazy by making the same mess for the hundredth time. It is telling someone congratulations when they share good news, even if you are jealous. It is being polite and saying please, thank you, excuse me, and holding doors open for people even when you're tired, grumpy, or having a bad day.

It's realizing that manners are one of those things that are higher than you. That includes the majority of us who are grieving through one of the four Dreadful D's: death, divorce, disease, or disability. You may be hurting, but that does not give you a reason to hurt others.

Scientists at UCLA have determined that when someone is treated rudely and disrespectfully, their brain responds as though they have been physically injured. The regions of the brain that are activated when one is the victim of rudeness are the same parts of the brain that are triggered when one is the victim of physical wounds. 

I find this to be an amazing example of the mind-body connection, that the brain processes injuries - whether emotional or physical - the same. Our social pain translates into physical pain.

The opposite has also shown to be true. When someone is treated nicely and politely, even by a stranger, thier brain releases oxytocin, also known as the "love hormone." (Our bodies release oxytocin when we hug or kiss a loved one.) Our social happiness translates into physical happiness.

We feel value based on how others treat us, and others feel their value based on how we treat them. When someone has good manners they say please and thank you to all they encounter: friend and stranger, youth and senior, and so on. Manners are the great equalizer because they teach us that everyone deserves equal consideration and respect.

When a clerk hands you change they equally deserve to be told 'thank you' as you do when you hand something to others. The person behind you equally deserves the door held open for them as you do when you walk behind someone. The colleague at work you ask for help equally deserves a 'please' as you do when someone asks you for help.

The foundation of good manners is an awareness of others; it is the belief that other people deserve the same thoughtfulness that we do. In a country filled with divisions based on ethnicity, gender, age, and so on, a culture that teaches its children good manners is perhaps a first step toward greater societal harmony.

Resources for Readers:

1. For those who would like to read articles by Dr. Pier Forni or know about The Civility Initiative, here is a link to its website.

2. Here is the link to the article that Dr. Berry Brazelton wrote, part of which I quoted above.

3. To read more about the UCLA study, here is a link for an article in Time magazine.
By: Kristia Markarian