Learning good manners might change the world

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Why do basic good manners seem so hard to grasp? I was thinking about that last night whenever our 4 ½-year-old grandson, Grafton, announced, “I want a snack,” or “I want juice.” My initial response was, “I’m not hearing any manners,” or the shorter, “Manners?”

Before I finish my sentence now, Grafton’s got it, saying “Please, can I have a snack?”

He’s a curious, smart young man. So, I’m puzzled about why, when Grafton’s here, after a reminder or two, he uses his basic please-and-thank you manners. Then he goes away for a few days. When we see him again, we have to start again with manners reminders.

Maybe habitual good manners take longer to adopt than I remember.

I have some recollection of learning basic manners when I was Grafton’s age. I also remember acquiring new manners at twentysomething in new social situations. Some of my later-in-life manners might seem to some people today foreign, antiquated, or nonsensical.

For example, my friend from Georgia, Millard Cowan, taught me about holding open car doors for women. It happened one day in my two-plus years playing drums in Millard’s piano trio. Millard watched as the lady I was with and I walked toward my car. She walked around to the passengers door, I walked to the drivers door, and we each opened our own doors and got in the car.

Staring directly at me, Millard gave one of his classic side-to-side head shakes. His facial expression said, “I can’t believe I just saw you do that. Gawd!”

I didn’t have a clue what I had done wrong, but I felt sure I had really stepped in it.

Millard explained how a gentleman always escorts ladies to the passenger side, opens the door and, once a lady is seated comfortably, the gentleman closes her door. Then it’s okay for the gentleman to enter the car from the drivers side.

Forty-plus years on I still hold car doors for ladies. Except at bank robberies where the lady and I need to make quick getaways.

Holding open doors to restaurants and stores is such a simple act, yet to this day women are mostly surprised when I hold a door for them. If I’m exiting a store as a lady is approaching I hold open the door. When she is within earshot I sometimes say, “Hi. The store owner sent me to open the door for you.”

Good manners enable us to make life more pleasant for others.

When my father answered the phone at work or home, his first words spoken were his name: “Chet Fish.” Not, “Hello. Chet Fish,” or any other variation. Just my dad’s first and last names. Chet Fish.

“Why do you answer the phone saying your name?” I once asked my dad. He said, “Because doing so lets the caller know right away if they’ve reached the person they’re calling.”

That made sense. I started answering my phones — and still do — “Scott Fish.” I even learned not to slur over the “t’s” in Scott when a caller heard me say, “Ska Fish,” a reggae reference perhaps.

The last year or so I adopted new everyday manners from podcasts and books about military battles. A common method for maintaining good troop morale, even in godawful fighting conditions, is the act of shaving in the morning.

Admiral William H. McRaven’s (US Navy, Retired) book, “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe The World,” is based on the shaving principle: “Start your day with a task completed. If you want to change the world… start off by making your bed.”

So as Grafton masters please-and-thank you, I master shaving my face and making my bed each morning.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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