New Low in Good Manners

Sadly, we reached a new low in good manners recently. First there was Rep. Joe Wilson, shouting at the President during a presidential speech in the House of Representatives. Then Serena Williams had her tirade with a US Open linesperson. And, last but not least, there was Kanye West taking the microphone from Taylor Swift to publicly pronounce his own opinion of who had the best video of the year. To name all the other recent examples of bad manners would take too long and it all leaves me wondering what has happened to the respect we once accorded each other.

To make matters worse (or to make “manners” worse) all of these incidents were so public and so fast to make their mark in the headlines that even a quick apology was too late to undo the damage. Even though Rep. Wilson was rebuked, Serena Williams was fined and issued an apology and Kanye made up with Taylor Swift, their reputations have been damaged. They may recover from their blunders over time–but wouldn’t it have made more sense to exercise a little more self-control show some respect?

So—what can we learn from this? One good lesson is that no matter who you are or what you are doing, there’s not much privacy anymore. Through the magic of television, we see the faux pas of the famous and the infamous almost immediately. And those of us who aren’t famous? Teens, tweens and adults should understand that the technology that keeps us so well connected also has the capacity to damage friendships, destroy reputations and harm self-esteem. Be careful what you “say” electronically–anything in a text, IM, Tweet, facebook or MySpace page or an email is out there in cyber space somewhere and can be passed around indefinitely. It can most likely be retrieved for years and years–in case you are thinking of running for public office! Almost all cell phones have cameras these days–and many have voice and video recording capability. Anything that you send electronically to another person can be very quickly passed on and on and on and on…..even if it’s supposed to be private. Many a “secret” has been spilled on-line.

And that brings up an even more important lesson we can learn from recent blunders. One of the most important character traits we can cultivate in ourselves and our children is a healthy sense of respect for others. Unlike what we’ve seen in the media of late, we can practice respect in many ways—thinking before speaking, keeping our cool in difficult situations and realizing that our opinion might not always be right. We can respect each other by honoring privacy and not passing on private messages–or anything that might hurt another person. We can respect our families by putting down the cell phone long enough to eat dinner together as a family or have a nice talk while we make the trip home from school. (This includes texting under the dinner table and in the back seat of the car, and refers to parents as well as children.) We can respect property, both private and public. If it’s not ours, we should not take it, touch it, change it or damage it. We can listen to those in authority—whether it’s a parent, a police officer, a principal or a president and respect their positions even if we don’t like what they are saying. And we can respect those who are not as fortunate as we are and may need our help. They can really use our support and respect as human beings.

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