Manners Make the World Go Round

Having explored a few of the neurological and physiological intricacies of the human female brain, let's take the next logical step and consider how girls should be raised. That will take us from nature, where we began, to nurture, which is another infinitely complex subject. To address it, I want to step back a couple of hundred years and get a running start at the principles that matter most. The ideas and perspectives I will share were true two centuries ago, and they are precisely on target today.

We'll begin by revisiting the beliefs and writings of the second president of the United States, John Adams. He was a prolific reader, statesman, and author, and he made an incalculable contribution to our country. He was not a perfect man, but he lived by a standard of righteousness throughout his adult life. In his autobiography, Adams wrote a commentary on the subject of moral behavior, which he called "manners." Though the language is formal and dated, I urge you to read these words carefully and thoughtfully. They carry great meaning for us today.

From all that I had read of History of Government, of human life, and manners, I [have] drawn this conclusion, that the manners of women [are] the most infallible Barometer, to ascertain the degree of Morality and Virtue in a Nation. All that I have since read and all the observation I have made in different Nations, have confirmed me in this opinion. The Manners of Women, are the surest Criterion by which to determine whether a Republican Government is practicable, in a Nation or not. The Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Swiss, the Dutch, all lost their public Spirit, their Republican principles and habits, and their Republican Forms of Government when they lost the Modesty and Domestic Virtues of their women. . . .

The foundations of national Morality must be laid in private Families. In vain are Schools, Academies and universities instituted if loose Principles and licentious habits are impressed upon Children in their earliest years. The Mothers are the earliest and most important Instructors of youth.1

How insightful it is that Adams placed the responsibility for the essential moral character of the nation squarely on the shoulders of mothers. Fathers play a key role too, of course, but moms are absolutely indispensable. It is their primary task to transmit enduring principles of right and wrong to the next generation. The old proverb "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" is still true. If women grow weary of that responsibility, or if they lose sight of their own moral compass, no other institution or governmental agency will be able to save the nation. So wrote President John Adams.

On another occasion he elaborated on the link between national character and the preservation of a democracy. He wrote:

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.2

To paraphrase, Adams was saying that a representative form of government such as ours cannot survive without a spiritual foundation, because its citizens are masters of their own destinies. That is the great vulnerability of a democracy. Our political system, which Abraham Lincoln said is intended to be "of the people, by the people, for the people,"3 can be no more stable than the collective character of its citizenry. It's all up to us. There is no king, dictator, or tyrant to restrain our behavior. If we choose evil, there will be no stopping us. In short, our national sovereignty depends on the transmission of the nation's morals and manners to children, and that task should begin in the nursery.

But what form does this early training take in today's world? It begins with basic civility, because manners and morals are directly connected. As Horace Mann said, "Manners easily and rapidly mature into morals."4 The first tends to lead to the second. In centuries past, cultured and religious families understood this relationship. They were aware that girls and boys, and all of humanity, are flawed and inherently sinful. Thus, Old English and Early American societies worked diligently at teaching what were called the "social graces." Teaching manners was their highest priority because of the connection to Christian piety.

Alas, American and British cultures in the twenty-first century have swung to the other end of the continuum. Young girls are often allowed, and even encouraged, to be brash, rude, crude, profane, immodest, immoral, loud, and aggressive. Some of this behavior has been consciously taught in recent years under the rubric of "assertiveness training." To the extent that such programs were designed to instill confidence in bashful, frightened young women, I supported them. But some girls have been taught the worst characteristics of "uncivil" males. I know my words must sound horribly old-fashioned and archaic at this point, but there is something important here for us to consider.

Obviously, human nature has not improved much in the past several hundred years, nor will it ever. What has changed, as I have described, is that many parents have become far too distracted, overworked, and stressed out to care much about teaching morals and manners to children. Jolene Savage, who runs the Social Graces School of Etiquette in Topeka, Kansas, says society has reached an all-time low when it comes to matters of civility. Exhausted moms and dads seem not to have noticed what has happened to their children. Clearly, instruction in civility is needed now more than ever. Getting that done, however, can be a challenge. As the late dancer Fred Astaire said, "The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any."5 If that is unfair in your case, please forgive him—and me.

Once again, speaking directly to mothers, it is your job to acculturate your daughters and to help them become ladies. Does that sound chauvinistic in our high-tech world? I suppose it does, but even so, it makes sense. As Lisa Fischer, an instructor at the Final Touch Finishing School in Seattle, Washington, says, "Etiquette has to do with knowing the rules."6 Therefore, girls should be taught how to eat, talk, walk, dress, converse on the telephone, and respond to adults with respect and poise. Parents should demonstrate good posture and table manners for them, such as putting a napkin in the lap, showing them

where to place silverware, and not talking with food in their mouths. They should also explain that burping, gobbling food, and picking teeth are rude.

I also firmly believe that you should require your kids to say thank you and please, to demonstrate that ours is not a "gimme-gimme world." Appreciation is an attitude best cultivated at home. Teach techniques of personal grooming, hygiene, and nutrition. Role-play with them about being gracious hosts and how to formally introduce parents or friends to each other. Require them to excuse themselves when leaving the table, and explain how to make friends, how to take turns talking in a group, and how to make eye contact. You might even help them learn how to cook and care for children. Wouldn't that be something novel?

1.John Adams and Charles Francis Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1865), 171.

2.John Adams, quoted in his address to U.S. military forces, October 11, 1798; see out=html%26Itemid=27.

3.Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863).

4.Horace Mann, The Common School Journal: For the Year 1847, vol. IX (Boston: William B. Fowle,

1847): 181.

5.Quoted in E. D. Hill, I'm Not Your Friend, I'm Your Parent: Helping Your Children Set the

Boundaries They Need . . . and Really Want (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008), 16.

Book: Bringing Up Girls

By Dr. James Dobson

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