Friday, May 30, 2008

Social Freedom Through Etiquette

Insider’s Note:

I had the pleasure of meeting Mindy Lockard, an etiquette consultant from Eugene, Oregon, at the National Stationery Show. Earlier this week Mindy presented a class on etiquette to a group of fifth-graders out her way, and I asked her to share her experience, along with some thoughts on the role of etiquette in the 21st century.

First, a few questions and observations from the fifth-graders:

I will use this when I have a job.
I didn’t know that silverware gives messages.
I thought this was a cooking class.
Will we learn how to do a dance?
Am I going to have to kiss a girl’s hand?

As a parent, I know that when I apply the rules of etiquette and the mind-set of good manners I see a change in my children’s behavior. It is through manners that our children are able to identify what is expected of them and feel confident in their own skin. As parents of well-behaved children, we can take them out of the house without fearing social repercussions or spending half of our dinner trying to keep them out from under the table—to a mother or fellow diner, that is freedom!

In addition to believing in the power of etiquette and using the rules as a mother, I have the honor of working with children, families, and professionals and witnessing firsthand how life-changing manners can be. My students begin to sit taller, engage in the interests of others, say please and thank you, and make eye contact. With the use of these social skills, lives change and personal dreams begin to unfold!

Recently, I had the privilege of working with 34 fifth graders at Meadowlark Elementary School. At first the children seemed a bit hesitant, concerned that they were being subjected to 80 minutes of manners boot camp with Sergeant Lockard who would snap their wrists with a ruler when they made a mistake. To break the ice and misperception, I started the program by having them share qualities of a friend that make them happy and sad. Here are some of the qualities they listed:

Happy: caring, helpful, smiles at you, polite, shares with you, encourages you, truthful, trustworthy, responsible, reliable, nice, exciting, approachable, helpful, respectful, positive, funny, outgoing, good listener.

Sad: teasing, bragging, aggressive, steals, disrespectful, not responsible, mean, rude, negative, sad, mad, bossy, lazy, boring, thinks they are better than you, lies, impatient, has bad manners, talks behind your back, hurts you on purpose.

As the fifth graders made the connection between good friends and good manners, guards came down, and minds began to open!

Next we worked on eye contact and handshaking. Eye contact is one of the most important tools to have in our social arsenal. When we use this very important skill, we communicate value to those around us.

Then I shared tips for saying their name and responding to an introduction. Self introductions are very difficult for many young children and even young adults. This is the social skill that causes the majority of my students the most discomfort. We begin by slowly saying our names. If we rush through the introduction process because we are uncomfortable, the entire reason for the introduction can be lost.

When someone introduces themselves to us, we have to remember to listen to their name and repeat it. Repeating their name will ensure we have heard it correctly and help us remember it for the future.

Finally, I discussed place settings and the correct way to hold utensils. The key to good table manners is to draw the least amount of attention to our dining skills. When we hold our flatware incorrectly, we engage our entire upper body and run the risk of elbowing our neighbor, knocking an item off the table, or just looking like a bird ready for flight. By holding our utensils correctly, we limit the amount of movement, therefore saving ourselves and those around us from an unpleasant disaster, not to mention helping us look better.

Aside from which fork to use, when to send a thank-you, and which name comes first in an introduction, the number-one question asked of me as an etiquette consultant is “Why . . . ?” “Why do you teach etiquette?” The answer is rather simple: I teach etiquette because I believe the lessons are powerful and offer us social freedom when they are used. “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” you may ask. “Don’t the rules of etiquette keep us from experiencing personal freedom?”

Actually, it is not the rules that limit us but our perception of them. When we get over the rebellious desire to break or disregard the rules of etiquette and consider the reason why we use manners, we find social freedom: freedom from insecurity, freedom from social ignorance, and freedom to see beyond ourselves and invest in the life of another human being.

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