“You know, someday we’re going to have kids who use forks and knives,” I told my husband recently, “so you might want to start practicing holding your fork the right way, now.”
Sometimes my husband holds his fork like a shovel, which makes me cringe. Growing up, table manners were serious business. My grandma taught me how to set a table for Christmas dinner and my parents taught me how to properly hold my fork and knife.
Of course, the manners they taught me extended beyond the dinner table. They taught me how to write a proper thank you note, and how to make conversation with my peers and with adults. They showed me the power of polite gestures, like opening the door for the person behind me or smiling at a stranger on the sidewalk.
Now that I’m someone’s mother, those old lessons in manners have taken on a new significance — not only the old ones that are just as relevant as ever, but new ones, too. Why does it matter? I’ve asked myself. It’s not about the way we hold our forks. It’s about the messages we send through our words and actions. Now and always, I want that message to be: You are deserving of the best I have to offer.
Old manners worth keeping
Thank you notes
When I was old enough to hold a pencil, one of the first things I learned to write was a thank you note. If my thank you note was deemed to be lacking in care and sincerity, I’d be forced to write it all over again. I used to think my parents made me do this just to torture me, but now I text them my gratitude every time someone says, “You write the most thoughtful thank you notes.” Whether for a wedding gift or a kind word spoken over dinner, a thank you note is never a bad idea.
Setting the table
There’s something to be said about a well-set table. It doesn’t cost money, and it requires little time in the grand scheme of things. Whether you’re making a four-course meal or ordering pizza, setting the table says, “There’s a place for you here.” Certainly there’s a place for paper plates and solo cups — not every meal needs to be a production. All I’m saying is that a small gesture goes a long way to making someone feel at home.
As I said, table manners were a serious matter in our house, and for good reason. I believe that the unspoken ways we conduct ourselves at the dinner table speak volumes. Whether a casual brunch or a formal dinner, some manners are never out of style like:
- Chew with your mouth closed.
- Hold your utensils properly.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full.
- Keep your elbows off the table.
New manners worth adopting
I aspire to a minimalist attitude when it comes to technology. I believe that there’s a time and place for tech in our lives and that most of us (myself included) are living on the side of too much vs. not enough. One thing I believe to be a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to tech is that it should never get in the way of real, human connection. There is rarely a good reason to have our phones out when we’re spending time with our nearest and dearest; when our phone pings with a notification, I hope our first thought is, “It can wait.”
Keep comments kind
It’s easy to say things online that we would never say in person. Email, social media, and texting make it easy to be impulsive and act on our worst assumptions. Instead of reacting based on the emotions of the moment, let’s make it a priority to wait awhile (24 hours is the rule I learned from my mom), and respond with compassion and kindness.
Sharing is caring
The internet makes it easy to share what’s on our mind instantly. In a lot of ways, this is fantastic, but it has a dark side as well. For every picture of someone’s new puppy, there’s a post sharing some intimate detail or conflict in a way that leaves everyone who sees it feeling a little grimy. Sharing is caring, oversharing is scaring. Before sharing something online, especially if it’s charged with emotion, ask yourself these questions from Brené Brown:
- Why am I sharing this?
- What outcome am I hoping for?
- What emotions am I experiencing?
- Do my intentions align with my values?
- Is there an outcome, response, or lack of a response that will hurt my feelings?
- Is this sharing in the service of connection?
- Am I genuinely asking the people in my life for what I need?
Manners matter because they acknowledge the worth and dignity of the other, and the way we behave often says more than our words alone can convey. The goal of using good manners is not to be prim and proper for the sake of improving our image. The purpose of practicing good manners is and always has been to demonstrate love and respect for ourselves and those we come in contact with, whether strangers or friends. In that way, manners matter now more than ever before.