By Marilyn Pellini
As I was about to pay my check at the local sandwich shop, two teenage boys joined me at the register. They looked fairly affluent, dressed in Under Armour from head to toe. They were definitely not thugs. Suddenly I felt a bump on my shoulder, and an arm shot directly in front of my face, and I was forced to jump back a little. One of the boys reached across for a menu. Not a word of apology was uttered, and I have to admit I was rather annoyed since I am a senior citizen and not always that steady on my feet. I thought about speaking to him, but what could I really say except to tell him he owed me an apology? Perhaps he hadn’t noticed bumping me, as he was busy chatting with his friend. I began to excuse his rude behavior. The clerk had taken my check and laid it on the register while I fished the money out of my wallet. That same moment the young boy tried to hand the cashier his check and money. The gal behind the counter said, “I’ll be with you as soon as I finish with this customer.” He did not apologize to her either.
What has happened to simple manners and common courtesy in our society? Are people just too rushed and busy to say “please” or “sorry?” Is it that they just don’t know manners because they have not been taught them? I for one hope that is not the case. As a former teacher, I insisted on children using manners in the classroom with me and with each other. To foster this schoolwide, I suggested to my principal that we do a “Manner of the Day.” Since the aides often patrolled the halls, they were bound to see a student or two illustrating that particular manner. That child would then be invited to pick a little prize from a treasure chest kept in the main office. Couldn’t be simpler to execute, I thought, and I even volunteered to write up a manner of the day every day of the school year. I was bold enough to tell this gentleman, who cloistered himself in his office, that I could come up with enough “common manners” that I would not often have to repeat. As our little school only went from kindergarten through third grade, how hard could that be? The principal, however, felt there was no need for this, as the children were already mannerly. Of course I thanked him and retreated, but I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “I wonder what planet he’s living on?”
As I entered the bank the other day, a young man stood back and held the door open for me, and I was truly surprised at his kindness. A lovely conversation ensued with me thanking him profusely and telling him his mom and grandmother would surely be proud of him, and we both laughed. Upon exiting the bank at the same time, we turned and gave a little wave to one another. I know he made my day, and I hope in some measure I made his. We entered as two strangers, but almost left as friends.
When I was growing up in Providence, R.I., a local TV station sponsored a contest called “The Courtesy of the Road Award.” Station WPRO had spotters out, and if you were observed doing something kind for another driver, you were awarded two free tickets to the local movie theater. The station kept this going for a number of years, and people got into the habit of allowing another car to enter in front of them, or letting someone cross the street even if it was in the middle of the block. If you saw someone doing something courteous on the road, one of the people in your car would always pipe up with, “Bet he’s bucking for the ‘Courtesy of the Road Award.’” Years after the give-away stopped, people remained concerned drivers as they had gotten into the habit of thinking of the other guy first.
One year, after I had transferred to teach at the local middle school, I broke a bone in my foot. Crutches had me mystified; I just could not get the hang of using them. Consequently, I had to get to school very early with my trusty cane, so I could get myself into the school building without the kids rushing past. One day I arrived a little later than usual, just as the busses were unloading. A tall ninth-grade student came up and offered his arm. I was totally enchanted with such a gallant gesture. I knew that this student had just received his Eagle Scout Badge. He certainly made an uncomfortable situation into a real plus. Since he was dressed in his uniform for “Scouts Day,” none of the other kids dared to make fun of him, and I was most appreciative of the assistance.
We talk a great deal about wanting a kinder and gentler society, one where people are not angry about politics all the time and keep bringing up all that is negative in the world and in life. Does that just happen or go in cycles? No, I think if we could return to one basic ingredient in life, “manners,” we could form a lasting and meaningful bond with our fellow man, and there would be a lot more joy and smiles going around the planet.
Marilyn Pellini has recently published a grief book entitled Dear Al, A Widow’s Struggles and Remembrances. It has been selling quite well. Her other credits as a writer include a recent article in Brick Magazine entitled “Memories in My Button Jar,” pieces in Westchester Parent Magazine, Bay State Parent Magazine, On The Water, Balanced Rock, and others which she would be happy to provide copies of upon request. In May of 2018, she took the first place prize in the N.Y. State Federation of Women’s Clubs writing contest.