by Carrie Kirk
Do "please" and "thank you" manifest themselves from cultural events? Does polite clapping raise gentlemen and ladies? Does an evening at the theatre encourage kids to step up their manners game or is it a place for adults to practice patience and discreet attempts in curbing rowdy behavior? In a time when most people seem to think it's appropriate to be on their cell phone while they order a pound of finely sliced Virginia ham at the deli counter, I am looking for any environment that encourages a little grace and demeanor in my children. Cultural destinations can do just that and have come to my family's rescue in a period of - at times - insensitivity.
When it comes to instilling manners in children, adults have their work cut out for them. While I am happy that we no longer live in a world that is overly stiff and Victorian in nature when it comes to the dos and don'ts of walking, talking and shocking, what has replaced it makes me cringe on occasion. When did it become okay to chew and pop gum like a reformed nicotine addict? And I don't think Ms. Manners would be proud when the woman in front of you whips into the only remaining handicap parking space, getting out with a spring in her step and no handicap parking pass hanging from her review mirror. Then there's that couple at the table next to you, each having their own telephone conversation on their cell phones, seemingly speaking to two people who are in need of some really big hearing aids. I don't mean to sound like a prude, but I wonder how we got here and - more importantly - where we go from here.
In an attempt to gain some tips to help in my quest to raise young men with acceptable, maybe even decent manners, I checked out a book at my neighborhood library. Its title?How to Raise a Gentleman by Kay West. It is a cafeteria book, meaning I have scanned the book, picking and choosing what is pertinent, plausible and completely ridiculous. It is a book of lists and bullet points with parent pointers and advice on topics like telephone manners, sportsmanship, dining out, traveling, and last-but-not-least cultural affairs. West offers some sound counsel like committing to only half of a lengthy cultural event and introducing boys to cultural events by way of children's theatre first rather than engaging in an aria. The best advice is to invite your child to an event, inform your child what the affair is and what is expected and then direct your child accordingly throughout the event.
My mom tells me of a time when the seats at Clowes Hall would be filled with men in coats and ties and women in white gloves. And while I don't expect that from the arts, there are certain things that my boys take away from the theatre today:
·The quiet, the hush that precedes the
performance. Phones are off, conversations cease and everyone is turned one
direction awaiting the show. My kids witness respect both for a space and an
·Applause. This demonstrates appreciation for artists who have given so much to their craft and audience.
·Arriving on time to our seats. My boys live with a mother who is always five minutes late. In fact, it's sort of amazing that each of my kids arrived two weeks before their due date. These were the only two times I have been early in my life.
·The ability to strike a poker face. Even if my boys are not enjoying a performance, grin, bear it and give it a chance. It's only an hour ... or so...out of their lives.
·Ability to arrive at and depart from a seat. My boys now understand the value of facing towards sitting audience members while they edge to their seats. They (try to) avoid toes and keep their backsides stage front.
Manners don't come from the arts. That's like thinking you will get in shape by exercising once a week. It's not going to happen. Like abs of steel, manners come from daily direction, example and practice. However, the ventures to a musical performance, a play, or a dance event can help kids demonstrate a finer manner while appreciating the finer things in life. Now that's a bullet point worth pointing out.