Hats off to St Joseph School that has included etiquette lessons in their middle school curriculum. I only wish that all other schools had followed suit. Teaching the children manners and proper behaviour, getting them while they’re young is a top priority, even though the onus should be placed on their parents first and foremost.
In school, our children learn many wondrous things. They are also made to ingest information that is deemed necessary to advance their academic knowledge, but is uninteresting and feels pointless to them. We were all children once, and we can never forget those lessons that bored us to tears. But to be fair, with hindsight we know that there can be no such thing as useless knowledge. Nevertheless, having cohorts of well-read and well-versed school leavers who lack in polite behaviour and social skills is not quite the case of a mission accomplished.
This is not just about forgetting to say “please” and “thank you”. Nor is it about not being able to form an orderly queue and then expect to barge our way to the front regardless of how long other people have been waiting patiently before us. Nor is it about restraining our Mediterranean temperament from getting the better of us, like in the way we speak to each other rather loudly, waving our arms about in such a manner that one would be forgiven for thinking that we are constantly arguing.
It is about learning to live alongside others, who may not have our ways but who deserve our respect in the name of common courtesy. If we all take the time to be polite and civil to one another, then social life will function with a minimum of unnecessary conflict and disruption. This message should be drummed into our children’s heads regularly, much like the multiplication tables.
We are well into the digital age, and many of our children own a smartphone with access to the internet at the touch of a button. They are very active on social media and have come to rely on text messaging to communicate with friends. Their lifestyle makes it necessary for the etiquette lessons to educate them about the appropriate use of their phones and widen the discussion to cover aspects such as cyberbullying and online hate speech.
The importance of making children aware of the risks that they are exposed to when surfing the net can never be overstated. Neither should the anonymity of the internet make them feel safe enough to overstep the limits. Setting an aggressive, arrogant tone and using harsh language is simply a manifestation of savagery. If they disagree with the views of others, they must learn to treat each other with respect and agree to differ.
There is no doubt that good manners and respectful behaviour are essential pillars to hold up our society and should be strongly encouraged. It would also be a major step forward in curbing hate speech that is so rife that it sometimes feels like it has become the national pastime.