By Rana DiOrio, Founder of Little Pickle Press
Last week I had the great pleasure of interviewing Mister Manners (a.k.a. Thomas P. Farley). How did I come to interview the Mister Manners? Well, I asked if he would be amenable, politely. And he accepted my invitation, thoughtfully, promptly, and ever-so-graciously. Here’s how our conversation unfolded.
Ms. DiOrio: How did you get into the manners business?
Mister Manners: Manners have always been important to me. My parents and teachers were adamant about writing thank you notes, refraining from saying “shut up”, etc.
I accepted a job at Town & Country writing the Social Graces column, which addressed issues of contemporary etiquette. Essentially it was about how we deal with one another on an everyday basis. My writings evolved into a Modern Manners anthology. I think I enjoyed early success in this arena because I was a young man who brought a fresh perspective to the subject matter (historically dominated by older women authoritarians).
Ms. DiOrio: Which manners do you miss the most in our modern society?
Mister Manners: Modern is the key term in this question. People have become overly-reliant upon emails and texting. Our telephones at home and our cell phones ring very rarely. The idea of putting a pen to paper is anathema. These skills are not being used. Children and young people especially need to communicate verbally and in writing.
I save thank you notes when I receive them. People don’t print out emails and put them on the refrigerator. People do, however, put handwritten thank you notes there. So, to answer your question succinctly, I’d say that in our modern society I most miss communicating well through the spoken and written word.
Ms. DiOrio: Which three manners do you think are most important to teach children as soon as they can understand?
2. Thank you; and
If children can understand the importance of these three phrases, they have mastered 99% of all manners they will ever need to know.
Ms. DiOrio: How much do you think the media influences manners today?
Mister Manners: As a member of the media myself, I think they take a lot of blame undeservedly so. The greater source of blame is technology itself, which is encroaching upon our time. Devices are wonderful and serve a purpose, but they take time away from social graces.
Furthermore, the media is delivering what the public is eager to consume. Kim Kardashian, for example, is not a positive role model for young girls. Parents need to take responsibility for what content their children are consuming and not try to lay the blame on the media.
Ms. DiOrio: Why is it so much easier to fall into bad manners than good manners?
Mister Manners: It’s the path of least resistance. I don’t think most people are sitting down thinking, “What can I do to be rude today”? By the same token, being polite takes thought and time. What if a working mom skips writing thank you notes for her one-year-old’s birthday party? Is that OK? No. We are hyper-scheduled, so we cut corners when it comes to social graces.
Ms. DiOrio: Can a person be too polite? What if my good manners make people around me uncomfortable?
Mister Manners: Manners exist to grease the wheels of social interaction. They enable us to co-exist without confusion, so we can focus on more important things.
Putting on false airs of fussy manners completely undermines the reason for manners, which is to make people feel comfortable. It’s off-putting. My advice is to be mindful of the people you are with and modulate your manners to best suit the audience.
Ms. DiOrio: How do I model good behavior to children?
Mister Manners: Good manners start in the home. Both parents need to be on board. The kids follow what they witness.
“Do what I say, not what I do” doesn’t cut it. Keep your language clean.
Family dinners are very important to cultivate manners in children. Stop making excuses and make them happen. Have dinner together as a family at least twice a week. Quality interaction is essential to shaping children.
Stress the importance of using Please, Thank you, and Sorry; and do so yourself.
Above all else, treat your children with respect. They will treat others the way you treat them.
Ms. DiOrio: How do I protect them from the bad manners of other people?
Mister Manners: There is no way to isolate a child from bad manners. There will inevitably be scenarios where kids are exposed to bad manners. So, give them a strong foundation at home. As you witness bad behavior, use it as a springboard for discussion about the differences in homes.
You may consider accompanying your child on a play date to see whether the host family has the same manners as you do at home.
Certain adults want to be called by their first names vs. Mr./Dr./Mrs./Ms. So-and-so. This can be very confusing for a child. There is something important lost when the formality goes away. Discuss this with your children.
Ms. DiOrio: What is the manners question people ask you most often?
Mister Manners: Who goes through the revolving door first, the man or the woman? The answer is that the man goes first to push the door. It’s a paradox. The woman, being the fairer sex, needs the man to push the door for her. That said, I typically give the door a push and then usher the woman into the revolving door ahead of me.
Ms. DiOrio: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Mister Manners: I have two more things to offer:
1. Manners are the foundation for making children successful and well-liked, the sort of person their peers will admire. Having good manners does not mean you have to be a doormat though. Think about the reactions a cancelled flight yields. On the one hand you have an irate passenger who is raising his voice to the gate agent. On the other, you have a level-headed passenger who knows his rights and who is politely working with the gate agent to see that they are honored. It’s the level-headed passenger who is going to get re-booked on the next flight. Similarly, the child who is throwing a temper tantrum is not going to get the result she wants. The child who is polite is in a far better position to get what she wants.
2. Parents, please put away your devices. Don’t ignore your children because you are engrossed in your devices. I assure you, this behavior will come back to haunt you.
Ms. DiOrio: Thank you for joining us, Mister Manners. Readers, we hope you leave us a comment or question.
Thomas P. Farley is a manners expert who has been interviewed on matters of etiquette by the Today show, the CBS Early Show, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, People Style Watch, USA Today, CNN, ABC and Nick at Nite's TV Land, as well as on radio stations across the country. A graduate of Fordham University, Farley is presently at work on his second book, which will address the tricky matter of tech etiquette—from BlackBerry use to Facebook quandaries. You can read more about him here. Find his other books here. Be sure to connect with him on Twitter and Facebook, and watch this interesting video interview about the well-mannered way to post photos of your friends on Facebook!