"Do you want a sticker?" the speech therapist asked my daughter. "Yes," she responded. "Yes, please," I prompted. "Yes please", she corrected herself.
"Oh, right. I'd forgotten you were like that," the therapist said. The therapist. The woman whose job it is to help my daughter work out the intricacies of interpersonal conversation.
Excuse me? Like what? Unusual because I insist on teaching my children basic manners? Apparently so.
I may live in Israel, the country which invented chutzpah and "telling it like it is", but that doesn't mean I can't foster a tiny oasis of slightly more civilized behavior within my own family. Israelis are brusque to a fault, sometimes appearing quite rude in the eyes of outsiders. They're not acting rudely by their own code of behavior, but as someone raised in the US I have to say that even after nearly twenty years here it still grates on me.
As a New Yorker born and bred I think I'm fairly moderate in the standards I demand from my children, and from myself. Please, thank you, hold the door for someone carrying heavy packages, we're talking the basics here, not yes ma'am-ing or no sir-ing everyone old enough to vote. Still, that's somewhat unusual here. Enough that teachers have commented on my children's American manners, and other parents have set them up as role models for their own children, much to my son's chagrin. (You wouldn't think a simple "please" would get that much attention, would you? Surprisingly, it does.)
To me, basic manners aren't an end in themselves, they are a sign of a deeper respect. A way of saying "I recognize you and notice and appreciate what you are doing." If we don't recognize this most basic level of interaction, how naturally will respect come when the issues are harder and more contentious? If you don't say good morning to a teacher, or pay attention when she speaks, how will you give her the respect that she deserves and YOU need to be able to learn? How can we teach our children to go out into the world and thrive if they can't manage something as basic as please and thank you? How much easier is it to jump to anger and aggression if our speech is already angry and aggressive? What a difference it could make to take that extra second to temper ourselves, even just a little.
Manners. It all comes down to basics. Start with the basics, internalize them, teach them to your children and the rest will follow naturally.
And wouldn't that be wonderful.