Bring back human kindness – please!

Posted: Dec 03, 2003 12:00 AM

Recently I was taking a van loaded with kids, ages 11 to 16, home from a night at the movies. When I dropped them off at their respective homes, something was obviously missing as nearly every child jumped out and slammed the van door. It was mildly shocking when it first "happened," perhaps an oversight, I told myself. But as the omission turned into a pattern, it became more than shocking – it was maddening.

What was missing? Two simple words: "Thank you." Out of six guests, only one uttered the phrase. Let me quickly add, these kids are from good, decent families.

Lest you start thinking something akin to, "Honestly, these kids today! They're so spoiled and ungrateful!" allow me to share a similar story ... this time involving adults.

A few days ago, I sponsored an event where I supplied refreshments for a group of about 16 adults. Guess how many said thanks? Go ahead, guess.

Only three. That's right. Three. (And the refreshments were good, I might add!)

These two simple stories are anecdotal evidence that ours is a culture that is characterized by bad manners.

Again, lest you think I hang out with riff-raff, reflect for a moment: Ever heard of road rage? In an earlier time, courteous drivers meant fewer rude actions and reactions. Ever been in a long line at a grocery check-out stand and have a new register open up? You know what happens – carts go from 0 to 60 mph in a nano-second in a mad rush to get there first. Ever pull up at an ATM at the same time as another car? I've bet you've seen the mad dash there, too. And how many thank-you notes have you received from graduation gifts you've given in recent years?

From department store "service" counters, to 7-Eleven registers, it seems both clerks and customers lack the niceties of life that used to make life, well, so much nicer. I think it's time we encourage a little human kindness in our own spheres of influence.

I've found a fantastic resource that would make a terrific Christmas gift for the young children in your life or for the parents of young children you know. (Note: I never receive royalties, kickbacks, fees, etc. from endorsing products ... that would be in poor taste – reeking of very bad manners!)

For young children, society's new Miss Manners has arrived ... and she's got great material to help you turn the little darlings in your life into just that, little darlings. Known affectionately as "The Manners Lady" by the students and teachers of the many schools she has performed for, Judi Vankevich has produced a show-stopping, hand-clapping rousing sing-along CD filled with songs to teach kids, from ages 3 to 9, good manners. Each song focuses on a different principle of character or manners. The three themes that are carried throughout the "Everybody Needs Good Manners" CD are the power of showing respect, living by the Golden Rule, and having an "attitude of gratitude."

The Manners Lady will even personally autograph the CD for your child and guarantee delivery in time for Christmas if you order soon. And if you don't want to start until Christmas to renew your pledge to teach your children common manners that will help them throughout life, your child can join the Manners Club online for free right away.

Just why am I pushing this so hard? Because you have to start young, and reinforce, reinforce, reinforce every day of your child's life to build character and kindness. Everywhere around you, "forces" have lined up – so it seems – to create a generation that is self-centered, technically oriented to the point of tuning out real relationships, and just plain rude. It's up to moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandparents, pastors, etc. to combat the world's influence and raise children who are considerate, yet strong; kind, yet true to their own convictions; and selfless, yet leaders among their peers.

Folks, as I remind myself every day, the behavior I want my children to emulate has to begin with me. In the hustle and bustle of life, it's far too easy to leave off the "please" in the "pass the potatoes" when gathered around the family dinner table for another rushed meal.

Of this you can be certain: Children notice and record. Even when you fear they are "brain-dead," kids are secretly taking mental note of how you act and how you react to every situation. It might be tough to keep on keepin' on, but it's worth the effort. And believe me, there's nothing more rewarding than to hear from another adult that your son or daughter is polite. Your work, and your example, will pay off in producing kinder human beings if you are diligent.

Oh, and thanks for reading my column.