Friday, June 22, 2012

Cavemen, Manners and Court Etiquette

Recently, an interaction between of a group of middle-school boys and their school bus monitor, a 68 year old widow made the news. 
 She may have been a working elder, perhaps trying to make her way through the now elusive golden years in arguably the worst-ever decade of America History.  Sadder, she may have volunteered for the job to just keep other people’s children safe.  Instead she was subjected to a vicious verbal assault by a group of pre-teen boys.  

It is heartwarming that the public came to her aid and admirable that the thoughtless youngsters actually made their sincere apologies.  I give kudos to the boys for manning up and rectifying such a heartbreaking moment in their young lives.

I will call the boys’ behavior “Mob Mind”.  It is something I experienced twice in my young years of the early 1960s.  I’m first to admit that the good old days theory is a nice idea, however, they aren’t all that they were cracked up to be.

Mob Mind is a crazed condition, and happens most often at sporting events.  It might be related to delayed development of the frontal lobe in young people.  Current research indicates people may be lucky to make it to their 26th year when actual judiciousness finally sets in.  

I believe has a lot to do with not having  "manners", a word used for respecting and caring for fellow beings, and it needs done long before a child enters school.

1)  All children need tools in order to successfully navigate their lives.  A household agenda of civility and manners; respect and caring needs to be instilled by the time they are walking.   This would be those “yes please, thank you, pardon me, may I” phrases with which children are received with approval from the rest of the world.  Pre-school children are known for being amiable and cooperative, and professional mimics!  They are fixated on mirroring what they see and hear.  Parents, please do walk the walk;  and talk the talk.    What your child sees, our world gets.

2)  Encourage the older child to develop and respect an inner sense of responsibility.  Teach them as they move into elementary school that they need to rely on their sense of respect, of honor, "as Our Family always does."  Let them take pride in moving positively through their world.  Teach them it is their responsibility to sound the alarm, their duty to alert the school, church, or call 911 when they see certain acts, like bullying, and physical or sexual violence. 

I find it amusing that although I was reared in a welfare family, my brother and I learned all the above as toddlers.  And by the time we were ready for kindergarten we knew to stand up when a lady enters the room; if you are a gentlemen you remove hat on entering a room; you give up your chair as a seat for a lady or an elder; the gentleman opens the car door for the lady, and seats her in the restaurant, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.    

Mother took things a little further, though, and taught us how to curtsy and bow.  I assume she fancied us being presented to royalty one day.

She may not have been able to provide a lot of real necessities as we grew up, but she was able to give us the most priceless tools for navigating society and the workforce:  how to comfortably give respect, and employ some very Victorian manners!  Well, it worked for us both, and I have passed along most of what she taught to my own children (sans bow and curtsy) and to my grandchildren.

All my life I wondered about the ways man civilized himself.  I once hoped to get a degree in archaeology after taking Physical and Cultural Anthropology.  I envisioned myself landing a job in the Olduvai Gorge with Doctors Louis and Mary Leaky, sifting sand in my khaki shorts and pith helmet; finding shards of bones, brushing dirt from ancient footprints. 

Cultural Anthropology particularly fascinated me.  How did they civilize themselves?  There must have been lots of death.

I envision the cave man coming out of his cave early in the morning to go hunting with his club or his rocks.  He has a mate, and maybe a couple of children still sleeping in their cave, trusting Papa will not be an idiot and get himself killed by annoying other hunters.  

I am certain that on meeting another human, Papa adopted a submissive, or at minimum a respectful posture, hoping to establish some mutually beneficial relationship based on marrying off his female offspring, trading, or just staying alive. 

Inspired by that thought, I searched online for the "origins of etiquette" and found Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette.  I learned that Miss Emily’s Great-Grandson, Peter Post has written 5 books on etiquette, so obviously much of the world still acknowledges this social requirement. 

I searched further and found some support for my caveman theory:

1) 2,600 years ago the first “book of etiquette” was written by Ptahhotep, who was a city administrator under Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi.

2) 3,300 years ago mankind’s first written form of communication, Cuneiform, was developed, probably in Persia and it represents the origin of all written languages.

3) 5,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia, records of stores of grain and other agricultural products were kept by using forms of clay tokens or coins.

It took my imaginary caveman a very long time to get from just trying to feed his family without getting killed, to honing the social posturing that would keep him alive, and eons later keep him out of prisons.

I think it is time to go back to respectful interactions between people, not the short hand, short changing quick hits of “social” interactions.  

And, it is especially important to our youngest ones, who hold our future in their hands.  We adults are either somewhere on track, or nearing the end of the track of our own lives.  

Our youngest ones desperately need the tools to do as we have done and are doing.  Or, in far too many cases, to undo the worst of what we have done.


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