Monday, October 08, 2012

Frankly, My Dear, I Don't Give a Damn

My morning surf this week garnered thought provoking commentaries on dress and manners and -- to highlight a word that's fallen into disuse -- charm. Writers are looking at the externals -- what we wear and how we present are ourselves -- and pondering what the externals say about the internals.

We live in a crass world. As we drive to church on Sundays, we pass two billboards bearing anti-meth messages. They are graphic. They are in your face; I'm waiting for the day John asks, "What's virginity and why would you lose it in a bathroom?" These ads, rather obviously, are meant to shock.

Along with the rude, the crude, the unattractive, there is the sloppy.Years ago the Women's Olympic Soccer Team celebrated their gold medal with a visit to the White House. Talking heads immediately picked up on the fact that nearly every player wore flip flops to meet the president. Now, all flip flops are not created equal. There's the rubber variety that are basically shower shoes you wear to the Y to fend off foot issues. And then there are blinged out but still sporty sandals that are appropriate at a dressier event.

But to the White House? Hmmm. Do we dress up to meet the president? Or do we give a damn?

It's interesting to me that the question was even raised. Our culture has brought casual to new heights (or lows?). Apparently it is now perfectly acceptable to wear jammies everywhere from college lectures to Walmart. I tend to make excuses for the people at the pharmacy in their flannel sleep pants and scuffs. They're sick, after all. But college classes? When I was in college, yes, sweats were perfectly acceptable duds to sport to class; PJs were not.

A while back, Jen Fullwiler wrote about  our contemporary trend toward casual dress:

I think there's simply not that much that's important to us anymore. I wore faded jeans and a t-shirt the last time I went out to dinner, because it wasn't a big deal to me. As much as I hate to admit it, I wasn't that grateful to be able to be served dinner in a restaurant; it felt more like a right than an honor. However, if I got an invitation from Queen Elizabeth to join her at Buckingham Palace for tea tomorrow, you can bet that that outfit would be the furthest thing from my mind. We still dress up when we feel that an activity is an honor or a privilege.

(

Civility is a related topic. Once a week or so, I head up the street to our neighborhood Kroger. If Betty is working, I head for her check out line. Betty is an older woman with the smile of an angel and a cheerful word for every shopper and child. Her life has not been easy. She recently lost her husband after a long bout of poor health. She has a demanding job. She's on her feet all day. She deals with rude customers. She is invariably kind.

What the world would be like with a few more Bettys in it.

At the hardware store a while back, I questioned an item that scanned at the wrong price. I quickly learned that the old adage The Customer Is Always Right no longer applies. I was shuffled from the check out line over to customer service where a bevy of irritable employees stood ready and willing to avoid helping me. Twenty minutes later, the associate who had been strong armed into doing the price check ambled back to the desk -- in no hurry whatsoever -- to let me know that, yes, I was right.

Naturally, he didn't actually say I was right. In fact, this associate addressed the other employees, not me. No I'm sorry for the inconvenience; No Here's our policy on scanning errors. His entire affect screamed I don't give a damn. Once ounce of Betty would have gone a long way here. A simple Sorry about the hassle and I would have left satisfied.

Wasn't happening.

As Dave Barry once so eloquently put it, "Anger ultimately benefits no one. You'll end up a mean, resentful person working in customer service."

We work hard on manners around here - please and thank you, excuse me and yes, Mama. What's the point of all this?

Wikipedia says of manners: In sociology, manners are the unenforced standards of conduct which demonstrate that a person is proper, caring, non-grouchy, polite, and refined.

Refined. I like refined.

Refined is an interesting adjective to consider in a household of kids, most of them boys, all of them fourteen and under.

Does it matter that the three-year-old says, "Mama, I need to pee" versus "Mama, I need to go potty"? It does to this Mama. Some of the best parenting advice I've ever received was a single line: Begin as you mean to go on. And so we begin the long and circuitous route of training children to open doors, to push in chairs, to notice others, to make eye contact.

It isn't easy even when you do give a damn.

Years and years ago a friend and I got into it about about letting our kids watch The Rugrats Movies. My take is this: Why let your kids spend ninety minutes hearing language you know you're going to correct them for saying? I'm no purist in all this, believe me. In a moment of weakness this time last year, I mumbled "whatever" when the kids begged and begged to watch Shrek II. Blame it on the heat or on Dave's relentless work schedule; I simply caved.

And did we pay the price for that moment of surrender! John spent months -- months! -- repeating every off-color phrase all while singing "I'm too sexy for this ..."

Jesus enjoins us to love our neighbor. How effortless it is to love the faceless, anonymous "neighbor" living half a globe away who has never once left a wet towel on the bathroom floor, scarfed down the last bite of Moosetracks, or parked behind you when you were in a hurry.

Move closer to home and I start to squirm. Why is it I can be civil, even kind, to cashiers and waiters, pharmacists and receptionists, but get snarly with these precious souls who live under my own roof? A friend posted a pity remark to Facebook: Patience is what mothers display when other people are around. My response? Too funny and too true.

And in those all too frequent moments when I lack refinement and civility, when I fail to be either polite or caring, my children learn yet another tenet of civil society: the way to make amends, the way to ask forgiveness, the way to say I do give a damn, and I'm so sorry I hurt you.


gmomhpa said...

I'm so encouraged that someone does care about attitudes, actions and words! Especially a Mom teaching and modeling to her children and their friends! I hate the word used in place of potty. I don't like other common vernacular these days: slang for one's behind drives me to distraction, for instance. I strongly prefer navel to belly button -- in fact belly was uncouth in my home: stomach was the only word used for it. Old fashioned I may be, but civility in manner, speech and attitude is wondrous to encounter! Keep up the fight, Kelly! It IS worth it, and God will be well pleased with you.

On a related but different topic, this is a superb, tho' terribly long, article we could share:

gmomhpa said...

Ooops -- that Link is dead.

I hope this works better:

claire said...

I don't mind when my son tells me he has to pee. But boy do I get frustrated by the attitude of cashiers and sales associates! If I'm spending my hard-earned money in a store, a smile and a "hello", "have a nice day" goes a long way. And they're rare.

Kris said...

Kelly -- It's so nice to hear someone else on the same page. Sometimes i feel like it's an uphill battle, especially with sons, to instill manners and proper dress code, etc. A lot of that comes from the fact that it seems like SO many other people to not care, so they are bombarded with that all day long. Then you throw in girls who are raised "feminist" and are "affronted" by a young man who wants to open a door or pull out a chair, and you get boys who are afraid to be mannerly. Sometimes, I feel like every meal is one giant correction. But I know it will be worth it, and it IS worth it when people compliment me and the boys on their manners. So keep it up - there are others out there with you!

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes. I recently told a student that I would prefer her not to address me as "Hey" in an email. She was profoundly apologetic. I had hesitated to say anything, but thought, Who else will?

Kelly said...

Thanks for all the encouragement! Gmomhpa, we will keep up the fight!Even when we seem to be moving in reverse.

Claire, I have been a cashier, and we were trained to say hello, thank you, etc. I agree -- you don't hear much of that today.

Kris, yes, yes, yes, meals are one long list of straighten your chair, sit up, chew with your mouth closed. It's exhausting.

Christine, I am sure you were kind. When that student thinks twice about addressing a customer or boss in such an overly familiar way, she'll think back to you and be thankful.I remember when someone corrected me for barrelling out of an elevator oblivious to older shoppers. I wasn't trying to be rude, but I just wasn't thinking. I'm glad someone pointed it out.