Some years ago I held a part-time office job. “Good morning, Joe!” was my customary greeting to my co-worker, a middle-aged, good, but incredibly grumpy man.
For the first three months of our acquaintance, his invariable reply was, “What’s so good about it?”
The first time he said it, it was like a slap in the face. Something right around the region of my heart actually hurt. “How utterly
rude, ruthless, and uncouth,” I thought.
Nevertheless, I resolved to continue trumpeting my “Good morning!” every day with the same cheery intonation.
One day I faced him: “Listen, Joe, when I say ‘Good morning,’ I mean it. You know, I truly, really wish you a good morning.”
He began to mellow after that, and one day, behold! the incredible happened: He actually returned my good wishes.
Yes, the problem and I had met before.
Many a time, I had come across people in the work force who were by no means bad, ruthless, or uncouth, but whose deep-rooted philosophy regarding manners was:
“If you don’t feel like saying it, you are faking it. Well, I’m
not a phony, so I won’t say it.”
Incredibly enough, a large sector of our society today, especially among the young, seems pervaded by this outlook. To be polite,
to exercise good manners, to be attentive to others, is deemed prudish, unreal, “out of touch, fake.
Let’s go back to a time when manners were considered essential for good interaction with our fellow human beings.
From the time we were about five years old, mother was always there to make sure we said “hello” when we met someone, that
we rose and offered our seat to elderly ladies on the bus, that we said “happy birthday” at a party to the person whose birthday it was, that we said “thank you” when receiving a favor, and so on.
Later, as we grew a little older, we had to learn to begin and maintain conversations at the table, to greet people a little more extensively, to write acknowledgements and thank-you notes.
Believe me, the first time I had to say “happy birthday” to someone, I didn’t feel like saying it one bit. Every time I had to
stand up and let an old lady sit in my seat, I wished that she hadn’t come in at all, and many a time I felt rather like sticking my
tongue out at someone rather than saying the sweetest possible “Hello, how are you today?”
I certainly didn’t care what the answer to that question might be either.
But I had a good, old-fashioned mother, and she kept making me do it and correcting me when I failed to do so. And you know
After about fifteen years on this earth, a habit began to form.
And once the habit was formed, it came easily. And once if became easy, it was actually a pleasure...and I felt civilized!
One day, reading a story of a lady who, having had a very hard childhood, had developed several problems, I found the formula
for the problem.
She recounted her turbulent life and then described how she tried to truly start anew.
She only really began to feel that she was mending when she decided to help others even less fortunate than herself. It was hard at first, because she simply didn’t “feel” like doing it.
But she found that even if she did not feel like anything, she must at least “fake it,” and then, slowly but surely, she began to
feel that it was becoming part of her and that she was “making it.”
Yes, the fostering of good manners takes exactly this formula:
“Fake it till you make it.”
Once I asked Mother, “Mom, what are manners, anyway?” I shall never forget her simple, wisdom-filled answer: “Manners is
thinking of others.”
The reality that we are born a little bit on the barbarian side, far from having inborn good manners, does not justify our ignoring
or mistreating any human being.
Yes, we must be polite, even at the risk of “faking it.” And politeness must be taught, like mathematics, grammar, or music, from a very early age.
Still, a little skeptical voice somewhere inside of us may whisper: “Is all this “faking it” worth it? And, even if I “make it” and become a model citizen, what is the real advantage?”
The great advantage of “making it” is that, to begin, we will cease to feel like islands. No one likes a rude and impolite person.
Therefore, a rude person is automatically isolated.
If we are truly polite, there are a number of untold doors that will open before us. This world, even the most technologically sophisticated environments, is still made up of human beings.
Gas may move a vehicle, electronics may move a computer, but it is kindness that moves a human being.
It is but a short step from politeness to kindness. And from kindness to real caring is only another. And here is the greatest advantage of all: by becoming truly polite we will be well on the road to fulfilling Our Lord’s sublime command: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). And we will be on our way to being like Him.