Yet Another Reason to Teach Manners
David Brooks, author of The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement has provided us with a key to the future well being of our children.
We choose partners in life, both for mates and socially, who are similar to us in ethnic, social, religious, economic, and educational backgrounds. Brooks sites a study from the 1950s that showed that even geographical proximity is a keen factor in choices for life partners.
54% of the marriage applications applied for in Columbus, Ohio were by people who lived within 16 blocks of each other
The study showed that 54% of the marriage applications applied for in Columbus, Ohio were by people who lived within 16 blocks of each other.
If proximity and similarity are primary influences relating to whether we are chosen as a spouse or even an employee, how do we overcome the bonds from which we were raised? Apparently, among other things, manners are a make-it or break-it for a successful life full of upward mobility. The importance of being “in the know” when it comes to conformity to social standards is nothing new.
It’s a theme told throughout literature and is dramatized repeatedly on the big screen. From Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, the story remains the same. It is nearly impossible to become upwardly mobile without an understanding of the behavioral codes to the upper echelons.
The concept of behavioral coding is not even specific to those of us who are “civilized”. Behavioral codes are seen throughout nature and are a significant aspect in mating rituals. From turtles to birds, there are specific behavioral codes that signify that a mate is a good match.
Consider, for example, the Bowerbird. The male Bowerbird will spend a significant amount of his time constructing and decorating his bower, or habitat, in order to attract a mate.
The male bird places objects that hold visual interest, such as shiny and textured shells, within the bower to capture the attention of a female. The bird is specific about his choices, and will remove excess pieces in the bower that he did not place there.
Interestingly, the cleverest and distinguished of the bowerbirds, those with a high mating success rate, even create depth and optical illusion interest to their designs to keep the attention of the females.
This behavior distinguishes the successful bowerbird from less successful birds the same way watching someone climb into a Lamborghini will hold our attention significantly longer than watching that same person get into a Nissan.
Behavioral codes have been used throughout time to signal caste systems, class, position, and status. During the United States Civil War, if a soldier from the north suspected that he was encountering an undercover spy from his army, he would slowly remove his cap with one hand, pass it from down and around to his other hand, and eventually place it on his head with his other hand.
If the other soldier responded in kind, removing his hat with the opposite hand and flowing through the same set of motions, the identification was established and key pieces of strategic information could be passed from spy to army. This is similar to the ways in which social groups can identify each other.
Whether it is grip of the handshake while looking someone in the eye, or the jive handshake on an elementary school playground, social behaviors are a way to say “I’m a member and I belong”.
Manners indicate that a person was raised within a specific value structure that will make them a suitable mate, friend or employee.
So what is it about manners that are so critical?
They indicate that a person was raised within a specific value structure that will make them a suitable mate, friend or employee. It is comparable to the old idea of having a “good marriage” that will not deplete family resources or the gene pool.
The upper echelon of society can easily recognize who comes from class and old money within moments of meeting them. Manners are the behavioral keys to establishing yourself not as nouveau riche, but as a true blue blood. These are the behaviors you probably will not discover at the table of Britney Spears, regardless of the money that she may pull in.
Better to search out a Rockefeller if you want a one on one lesson in the old signs of class.
In Zanthe Taylor’s commentary on Brook’s book, she writes:
“It turns out that though poorer children actually may have happier, more carefree childhoods than their wealthier peers who are dragged from one adult-supervised activity to another, it’s the latter group that knows how to succeed within the institutions they’ll inevitably encounter. They know how to speak to adults, how to behave appropriately in varied settings, and how to navigate their way to a successful life. The children whose parents didn’t nag them constantly about their social behavior, in other words, are more likely to flounder when faced with unfamiliar settings and expectations.”
The ability to adapt to varied environments in later life is strengthened by the regulation of customary practices of etiquette. A child who learns how to behave in a socially appropriate way becomes able later to assess and comply with virtually any circumstances of institutional, educational and business life he or she encounters.
Whether sitting on a park bench enjoying lunch, or attending a congressional dinner, the ability to maintain poise and dignity is second nature to those who understand the behavioral expectation. While anyone can accidentally pick up the wrong fork without fear of being severely chastised, there are very few who could be excused from a loud belch during the host’s toast.
So what can be done to ensure that our children are able to move forward in their lives, confidently meeting with success in the multitude of variable environments they will encounter? We can push them to learn and adopt the social nuances that make them civilized beings.
Perhaps it is unnecessary for them to cross their forks and knives every time they place their silverware on their plate, but we should instill in them an understanding that depending on the directions they set, they must be able to adapt to the customs of the society they want to live in.
An open mind, a willingness to change, grow and adapt, and an understanding of the forces that drive human nature will suit them well if they chose to pursue a life of increasingly upward mobility.
Image by CarbonNYC