My mother always told me, “You need to think before you speak. Words can hurt, and once you have hurt someone, that is what they will always remember about you.”
And then she would say something that always confused me — “If you say or do something hurtful, you can’t take it back; it is like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube.”
If you are close to my generation in age, I’m sure your parents and/or grandparents had their favorite little quip they would put out there at the strangest times, making you scratch your head and wonder what they are talking about. And, oh yes, do you remember that tone in their voice or that look that could make you stop dead in your tracks?
I don’t really feel that my mother was strict, but we knew who was boss. We were taught to respect her as well as others, to be courteous, when to talk and when not to talk, and (maybe most important) when to listen.
The other night I ran into one of our local stores to pick up a couple of items. The second the doors opened, I could hear a child screaming. It didn’t sound like he was crying, just screaming. As I got to the vegetable aisle, I saw this 4- or 5-year-old child running in circles, just playing but also screaming. His mother was with a couple of lady friends who were busy on their phones and chatting among themselves. She actually didn’t seem to even hear this child, except when she would scream what a brat he was and what she was going to do to him when they got home. I moved very fast up and down the five or six aisles I needed to visit … and all the time, neither the child nor the mother ever stopped screaming.
I exercised one of my favorite quotes by Kahlil Gibran, “The real test of good manners is to be able to put up with bad manners.” My mother would have been proud of me. After I got home, I remember thinking and hoping that child would find other people in his life that could give him the direction and guidance his mother must have missed out on in her young life.
Research has shown children are most receptive to learning manners and respect when taught at a young age. They are more apt to have better reading skills and overall academic success as a result. The lessons children learn early will stay with them and become life skills, just like reading, writing and arithmetic.
None of us are born with these skills. We need to be taught and shown by example how to be kind, courteous and respectful of others so we can learn how to socially interact. Manners are empowering and an integral part of success. Having good manners helps an individual build confidence, increase self-esteem and improve communication skills.
Other than the headache I was sure I was going to develop, that evening I could not stop thinking about what that poor child was missing in his little life. And immediately a local family I know with nine children came to mind. If you are a member of the St. Elizabeth parish, you also know the family of Dennis and Julie Wilmsmeyer.
It is not fair for me to compare the Wilmsmeyer children to this child in the store, but I can certainly feel pity for this child not to be given the attention, the direction and the mentoring that has been given to Dennis and Julie’s nine beautifully mannered and well-behaved children. I don’t know Julie’s parents, but I do know Janet and Mel Wilmsmeyer, so I’m sure the household Dennis grew up in emphasized social rules and common courtesies. Knowing Julie, she must have had the same type of upbringing.
I have had the pleasure of living here locally my entire life, save for a few short years in Troy. I have had the fortune and honor of knowing some truly great people, mentors and friends … none of which I’m sure ever thought of themselves as great or as mentors or role models. To me, they certainly were.
We all need to be thinking outside of ourselves. Far too often, we are preoccupied with how life affects us. Manners and putting the needs of others before self is not only liberating, it has far-reaching benefits for the individual and the betterment of our community as a whole. If we stop to think how our behavior and our words affect others, we can make better choices. Good manners and respect of others is not “outdated” and it not about doing everything perfectly right, but it is about being thoughtful and using common sense. We all have a responsibility to be civil and treat each other well. It can become contagious. And we won’t have to try to get those words or actions that we regret back into the tube of toothpaste.
Who were your mentors, your role models, who made an impact on the way you think or perhaps had influence on your adult behavior? Was it your Sunday School teacher, a coach, a lifelong friend, a poet, or an elected official? Who is that person that you think of immediately when you hear the words “admire” and “respect”? This is one of the things that we have that is “right, right here,” and we are very fortunate. I could name a dozen people that I truly respect and admire right off the top of my head … each one for different reasons.
So why don’t we do that? Over the next month, send me in writing the person you most admire and why. It needs to be short and to the point and, depending on response, I will include some of them in my article.
Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (618) 876-6400.