Sunday Morning Sermon - February 2 2014
There used to be a time when we were taught, purely by default, watching our parents, elders, teachers, and other community members speak, act, and behave. What we learned from this was basic ethics, manners and decency which was quite the norm in the 50's and 60's. Since childhood, I can recall, my parents beating into me that "Manners Maketh Man". I understood that to mean, that good people had good manners and bad people had bad ones.
Of course there were always rascals, miscreants, thugs, hoodlums, and gangsters in every era. Yet, the basic people that one encountered in those times, in a normal day, were truly commendable in their behavior, attitudes, and personalities.
How often do you see men holding the door of vehicles and entrances for others to pass? Where do you see offerings of help without even being asked? We always stood up and gave our seat to a lady in the bus, irrespective of whether she was a young hot teen in a mini skirt or an ageing mama in a Saree. You rarely see people standing up for a pregnant woman or even a person carrying an infant these days.
Many men, in today's global world, have this despicable habit of dropping their underwear to the floor and leaving it there for someone else to pick up after they change. They rarely make their beds when they wake up. They litter their food all around the plate when they sit to eat. They rarely wash what they use. How many have you seen leaving the cupboard and drawer doors open after they have fetched something they need?
If someone walking in front of you on the sidewalk, inadvertently, dropped something you would pick it up and alert them immediately. How often do you see people assisting older folk wheel their shopping carts to their vehicles or giving a hand to lift something heavy?
What my Mum used to call manners, by definition, supported by her own behavior and by pounding into our young heads day in and day out, came to mean courtesy toward and respect for others, especially if they were adults or old folk.
That meant a polite hello to all my parents' friends, even the buxom Burgher lady, Ms Kelaart, who came every evening, swinging to and fro like a pendulum, to teach piano to the neighbors daughter, for whom we had to suppress a giggle.
A smile was expected to accompany the hello as though we were glad to see them. The response that came through was always very warm, cheerful, loving and kind. It brought about an aura of goodness even if the event lasted only for a moment or two.
Further, we were always expected to be standing until all the grown-ups had been seated at any event or location. My folks did that too, making sure their guests were comfortable. At that point there was an offer of something cool to drink.
This was Colombo long before shit hit the fan or even the fancy LG and Samsung AC's that blew in the coolness much later on. We were even taught to take the umbrella's and walking sticks from visitors to be placed in the enclosure meant for them that usually stood in one corner of our verandah. Serving the guests tea or Orange Barley was part of our job description.
On those special weekend occasions when the family went out to a restaurant, we always stayed in our seats throughout the meal. That's what children did. I notice now that kids bolt from their seats, race around and holler a lot making an utter nuisance of themselves. Family restaurant dining has become a playground for the restless.
Then there was the "thank you note" thing.
If a gift came for from someone whom we would not be likely to see and to thank in person, we had to sit at the dining room table with note paper and pen that Mum always had available, and write the obligatory note.
There were rules:
We had to name the gift-givers, as in Dear Auntie This and Uncle That. Then
we were required to name the proffered gift and say how much we would enjoy using (or wearing, reading) it. A final "thank you" and "love" ended the ritual.
The note was addressed. licked, sealed and stamped and the envelope was deposited in the red post box that stood silently on the sidewalk along Galle Road in front of the Bamba flats.
How could we ever, as grown up adults, possibly forget any of these lessons?
But today I hear friends complaining that they have sent wedding gifts to young couples and months later still no thank you. The gift may have been something selected from the bridal registry. It now falls on the giver to check with the store to make sure it was sent.
Am I out of line thinking that not acknowledging a gift from maybe one of your mother's or father's friends, clients or business associates is rude and thoughtless behavior?
Whatever happened to manners? Has our frenetic, self-absorbed society given up on kindness, respect and consideration of others?
Our two Gals and Grand Kids have all been wormed and weaned by this mannerly imprinting, both, by my wife and I, throughout their lives and even continuing to do so to date. It surely is an important part of a parent's job. Never a moment passes without us pointing out the right from the wrong to them, if and when we do encounter it every single day.
Perhaps somewhere out there a flock of courteous dodo birds are waiting politely to be summoned?