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Manners Matter

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (February 4, 2016)

I spent a number of my years growing up in England. My family moved there for 2 years when I was 8 years old and I later attended boarding school for my last two years of high school. I have so many fond memories of studying in England and it was there that I built many friendships that have lasted until this day. When I first attended boarding school, I remember being taken aback by certain things in the culture. I wasn’t used to younger students holding the door open for me, I wasn’t used to scooping up my peas onto the back of my spoon when eating (I later learnt that the fork prongs should never face upwards when being held with the left hand) and I certainly hadn’t needed to say ‘thank you’ to my teachers after each class when I studied in Hong Kong. All those things were rather new to me at the time but looking back, I am so thankful that I had learnt those things at a young age.

One thing that concerns me is that children nowadays aren’t learning even the most basic of manners. When academics and grades are held to utmost importance, other things can be overlooked with the excuse that children need to ‘focus’ on ‘important things’. But my view is that having manners is a basic form of respect to others and really is one of the most important things to learn in life. I think all children should show have the following manners and that we as adults should be role models for them:

1. Manners when greeting others

This really is the most basic to me - that manners are used when greeting and speaking to others. For children, it’s as basic as looking at someone when they are speaking to you and to address someone with polite words and their name when appropriate. To speak to people with a smile and to listen intently when the other person is speaking.

2. Manners in preferring others

As simple as holding the door open for the next person, holding the lift door open for the people that are walking in, letting someone get out of the room first, letting elders sit at the table first. These are simple acts of respect to others and basic manners.

3. Manners when eating at the table

This is one that I am quite passionate about. I remember being taught as a young child to have manners at the table because my mum said that the way I act at the table affects how others at the table enjoy (or can’t enjoy!) their meal with me. So manners at the table include sitting at the table until you’ve finished the meal, asking to be excused if you need to go to the bathroom, knowing how you use your cutlery properly, knowing how you wipe your mouth properly with a napkin and manners in passing condiments around the table.

4. Manners in showing gratitude

I think another form of basic manners is showing gratitude. Sometimes, it’s as simple as saying ‘thank you’ when someone offers help or gives you something. I think a lost form of manners is writing thank you cards. I have a friend who was brought up in England and every time I give her a gift or invite her to my home for dinner, I will receive a handwritten thank you card in the mail a couple days later. I don’t necessarily think gratitude has to be in the form of a handwritten card but it’s a wonderful way to show gratitude with manners.

5. Manners when facing differences

Perhaps one of the most challenging things to do is to show respect and manners to those you disagree with. Oftentimes, we see people being kind and cordial to those whom they are friends with and likely have the same views/perspectives/ideas as them. The challenge is when there are disagreements, conflicts, differing perspectives and people can end up being hostile, confrontational and downright mean to each other. The most challenging thing is to show respect and manners to those whom one disagrees with.

Having manners and showing respect is something that needs to be explicitly role modeled and taught. And the earlier the learning done by children the better. Manners matter and let it start with us.


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