Good manners are not difficult to practice. From the time I was a child, I was taught to be polite, say please and thank you, you’re welcome, say hello and goodbye, don’t interrupt, say excuse me, respect other people’s property, respect other people, ask how they are doing, offer to help others, apologize if necessary, and the many every day social norms. It doesn’t take a lot of time to use good manners. It helps to make living with one another a little bit nicer.
This morning, I was walking my puppy, Samwise, as I always do. We live in a neighborhood, with sidewalks and walking paths. There is a small lake for fishing. And a major biking and hiking trail runs through the neighborhood, as well. If you tend to be ambitious, you can take that all the way into D.C.
Needless to say, I run into people all of the time. Sam wants to say hi to every single one of them, but I usually leave that up to the other people. If they approach us and ask to say hi to my sweet enthusiastic boy, I let them, because it makes him so happy! At the very least, I usually acknowledge other people, with a simple hello, a smile, a wave or a nod. I think it is rude to intentionally avoid eye contact as you pass someone on the sidewalk.
I think the thing I miss most in our age is our manners. It sounds so old-fashioned in a way. But even bad people had good manners in the old days, and manners hold a community together, and manners hold a family together, in a way, they hold the world together. – Nancy Friday
Once, while walking the neighborhood, I ran into a man who wanted to know if my dog was expensive, how much I paid for him, and where I lived. This went beyond bad manners. It was suspicious behavior. Picture me running away. Polite small talk or questions about my dog’s name or breed would have been totally acceptable. I don’t walk that part of the neighborhood anymore. Creep. Maybe a dog thief.
Back to this morning. Most people walking their dogs stop and say hello, let the dogs say hi and sometimes take time to let them play. When we see new dogs, I ask if their dog is friendly and if the dogs can say hi. This morning, the woman I ran into said: “He is, but I don’t want to.” I appreciate the honesty. It left me thinking: Her dog was nice, but she wasn’t. It was very obvious that her dog wanted to meet mine. Usually, there is time for the quick dog sniff – that is how they say hi.
I know that sometimes people do not have time to stop. They have to go to work, have appointments, have errands to run, or some other reason. They don’t owe me an explanation. However, most of them are polite. They say things like: “I’d love to, but we’re in a hurry.” – or – “I’m sorry, we don’t have time today.” Notice any difference between this type of decline and the “…I don’t want to” response? Good manners versus bad manners.
This afternoon, I met someone new who was out walking his dog. Our dogs began doing their dog thing. We introduced ourselves. We asked a little about one another’s dogs. I learned that he just had a baby ten days ago. I asked a little about the baby. We said nice to meet you and have a good afternoon. All of that in about five minutes.
Above is a photo of me with astronaut Joe P. Allen at the Udvar Hazy Center. I spotted him as he was leaving, said hello, and asked him if he would mind taking a picture with me. He suggested we walk back to the Discovery to take the photo, which was a good distance away. On the way, he asked me my name and we made small talk. He wanted to know where I was from. I wanted to know what it was like to go into space. When we got to the Discovery, I asked his nephew if he would please snap the photo (he gets photo credit, but I don’t know his name). Neither of them had to make the extra effort to do this. He made a kind gesture, a sign of good manners. And it is good manners to make introductions and small talk.
Growing up, we had Emily Post’s Ediquette book on the book shelves. We read it. It doesn’t take much to be thoughtful and polite to other people. That’s all good manners really take. The simplest gesture or kind word makes the world a nicer place for everyone.
Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use. – Emily Post