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10 Rules of Everyday Politeness

A week or two before Christmas, I was waiting in the entry of our local grocery store for my Dear Wife to pick me up. (It was quite cold outside.) I couldn’t help but overhear some comments from the Salvation Army bell-ringers, wishing that people would at least talk to them as they went past. It got me to thinking about my own behavior — how in cases like this where someone is asking for donations and I don’t plan to give anything, I tend to look away and hurry past, pretending they aren’t there. And suddenly it occurred to me that there was no reason why I shouldn’t smile and greet them politely, even if I didn’t plan to make a donation.

The whole thing reminded me of a time when I was in my early 20s and someone was giving me a compliment. I had started to dismiss what she was saying — the whole “It wasn’t that big a deal” spiel — when she interrupted me. “The polite thing to do when someone gives you a compliment,” she informed me firmly, “is to say thank you.” And so I did. Ever since then, I’ve tried to remember that. It’s made me just a little less inept in social situations.

I’ve thought of those experiences recently, thinking about my children and how they don’t seem to have been born with an innate sense of manners. There’s a lot about being polite that they just don’t seem to know. And then I thought: Well how would they know, if someone doesn’t tell them? Here, then, is a set of 10 easy rules of everyday politeness, taken from my experience, observations of my children, and Various Other Random Sources.

  • Be polite and friendly to people who are asking donations for worthy causes, even if you don’t plan to give anything. It doesn’t cost you, and it makes their day a little more pleasant.
  • When someone gives you a compliment, say thank you — and stop there.
  • Offer food to your guests. Especially, don’t eat food in front of your guests without making sure they have something if they want it.
  • Don’t start a conversation with someone who’s talking on the telephone.
  • Turn off the TV when guests come.
  • Don’t comment on the cleanliness (or otherwise) of someone else’s house.
  • Don’t spend time cleaning up the kitchen when you have guests over.
  • Don’t growl at your teacher. (This, from experience with our 10-year-old son who has ADHD.)
  • Don’t try to “top” other people’s tales of sickness and woe.
  • See your guests out when they leave.

What are some of your favorite often-forgotten or particularly useful rules of everyday politeness?

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Jonathan Langford (www.langfordwriter.com) is a freelance writer and editor who lives in western Wisconsin with his wife and two children (his oldest is currently serving a mission in western Washington state). His first novel, No Going Back, a 2009 Whitney Award finalist for best general fiction by an LDS author, describes a Mormon teenage boy’s struggle to remain faithful despite his homosexual feelings. Langford is also coauthor of the Latter-day Saint Family Encyclopedia, published by Thunder Bay Press in November 2010.




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