Parents must take on the “age-old parental job” of teaching manners to their children, writes Perri Klass, a New York Times health columnist.
And that job is to start with a being who has no thought for the feelings of others, no code of behavior beyond its own needs and comforts — and, guided by love and duty, to do your best to transform that being into what your grandmother (or Socrates) might call a mensch. To use a term that has fallen out of favor, your assignment is to “civilize” the object of your affections.
Socrates spoke Yiddish? Who knew?
She talks to Judith Martin, author of Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children.
“Every infant is born adorable but selfish and the center of the universe,” she replied. It’s a parent’s job to teach that “there are other people, and other people have feelings.”
I agree totally with Klass on the wisdom of Miss Manners’ approach:
I’m not telling you to like your teacher; I’m telling you to treat her with courtesy. I’m not telling you that you can’t hate Tommy; I’m telling you that you can’t hit Tommy. Your feelings are your own private business; your behavior is public.
Feel as you wish. Act like a civilized human being.
When my daughter went to birthday parties, I’d tell her my goal was to have the birthday girl’s parents say: “What a polite child. She must have a wonderful mother.” Those good manners have stood her in very good stead over the years.