Manners drive me nuts. I often feel like a social dunce and much prefer avoiding social situations than offend anyone with my faux pas. So instead I annoy my partner endlessly as he has a strong awareness of manners. My lack of manners is the most apparent at the dinner table, that’s if you can even get me to sit at one. When I do, I am slouched, legs not under table, and of course my elbows are on. I usually burp too. If I am using a utensil, I am likely using it incorrectly. Even my 2 year old hands me towels and wipes food off my face. No wonder my partner’s fuse for my son’s struggle with table manners is so short.

My mom’s excuse for my poor table manners is how could she teach her kids table manners when the head of the table modeled very few. So out of respect to my dad, she would not correct us and undermine him. I am actually grateful to my parents for this shortcoming and perspective. I naturally think about those who are less fortunate. What about people who cannot afford tables, chairs, silverware, napkins, or have no clean running water? Are they less human and deserve less respect? Do they need to be punished and humiliated?

I remember when I was a little girl, eating at my cousin’s house. I was terrified to do or say anything but eat my food. I waited till my cousin finished her food and ask for us to both be excused from the table. It’s not that my aunt or uncle were mean, they just had different expectations that I didn’t know how to meet.  All it took was a look, or a simple correction that made me feel horrible. I feel stupid at the fact that I can’t do something that you can do. And that I didn’t even know that it was something I needed to do in the first place, multiplies my feelings of ineptitude.

I know it can be much worse. I just heard a story how a dad would tie a broom stick to his son back to force him to sit up straight at the table.  And forcing kids to finish their food on their plate is so against learning natural self-regulation. No wonder we have nations of people suffering from eating disorders…

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for manners… from a quick search on Wikipedia:

“Etiquette tells one which fork to use. Manners tells one what to do when your neighbor doesn’t.” Manners involve a wide range of social interactions within cultural norm…Etiquette and manners, like mythology, have buried histories especially when they seem to have little obvious purpose, and their justifications as logical (“respect shown to others” etc.Others feel that a single, basic code shared by all makes life simpler and more pleasant by removing many chances for misunderstandings and by creating opportunities for courtesy and mutual respect.”

I have also recently discovered that many manners regarding eating actually encourage healthy eating habits, digestion, and optimal absorption of nutrients. I am a huge fan of clearing up misunderstandings and creating mutual respect.  What I dislike is the manner in which the manners are enforced, seeming to nullify the intent and merit. How can one learn “to be respectful” when the approach to correct is disrespectful? I don’t care how old you are, if you tie a stick to me, I am bound to feel embarrassed, put down, and demeaned.

I want to travel the world with my children and believe it is important to learn more about the customs and etiquette in all cultures, but it is impossible to know it all. Many of these rules are unwritten, covert, and contextual. The chances of offending someone are high and endless.  I choose to put more of my efforts on teaching tolerance, acceptance, understanding, and compassion. I give my children resources to handle discomfort, suffering, and negative emotions. I want my children to be mindful of the have not’s.

I don’t mean to be a slob, and I am sorry if my dirty face, knotty hair, or poor table manners offend you. I just cannot stand that looks are more important than what truly and intrinsically exists. I guess my looks are my form of civil disobedience. So I ask for your forgiveness, unconditional love, and patience as I express myself and learn. When I mess up and offend you, find a creative, and respectful way to highlight the harm I am causing. Please offer suggestions, then I feel empowered to learn other mutually satisfying ways to get our needs met. And when my children seem ill mannered, you can blame me. I take full responsibility and I will love them through their many indiscretions and learn along with them.

“We must be bold enough to challenge inequality, brave enough to speak out against social injustice, and visionary enough to believe we can change our condition as a people if we put our collective energies forward” (T.A. Parham, Beyond Intolerance)

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