I recently received an email from a young woman named "Virginia". She was asking me if there were any manners left in the world. She was wondering if the word "etiquette" even existed. She's a freshman in college and was alarmed to read a recent study that reported that college freshmen tested at 40% less ability to empathize with the sufferings of others as compared to her counterparts who were twenty years older.
She lamented about phone calls being interrupted because the person she was talking to had another call coming and could she wait? She was tired of gruff responses from customer service representatives and people screaming expletives at one another at the drop of the hat.
And for the life of her, she couldn't remember the last time a boy her age had opened the door for her.
I told her that quite frankly, I didn't have much hope, especially since manners seem to be something many parents no longer feel are important to teach to their children. Why just last week, I told her, I was holding two hot cups of coffee following a young girl of about 12 who was leaving the cafe ahead of me. As I was going through the slightly opened door, she turned around and saw me coming. With a blank look on her face, she turned around and let the door slam into me, spilling my coffee on my unsuspecting clothes.
I was with a friend and said loudly, "I guess her parents haven't taught her what manners are." She never turned around.
When our four children were very young, my former husband and I were adamant that we would teach our children good manners. We would practice with them when they were the smallest of tots.
We would have them walk across the room, look us straight in the eye, shake our hand and say, "Very nice to meet you." We would take them to nice restaurants, even at their tender ages, and taught them manners and social graces. If they didn't behave (this happened often enough), they would be whisked out of their chairs and taken outside until they could agree to come back in and behave themselves.
It was not uncommon for people to approach us halfway through the meal to commend us on the good behavior of our small children. They admitted to feeling annoyance when they saw our small clan enter the restaurant and they admitted to being worried for nothing.
I taught my children to say "please" and "thank you". And I would always laugh when people would tell me, "Your children are so polite. How did you do it?" I would say to them, "Thank you very much, but really, don't you think this should be expected behavior from children, from people in general? That this should be the norm and not the exception?"
But rudeness seems to be the new decorum.
Oh, but I had a ray of hope the other day. A gesture so rare, so unseen, it changed my entire day. No, it MADE my day.
I had some packages to mail and was carrying them awkwardly from my car to the mail center. I was juggling them and hoping to just make it to the entrance without spilling them everywhere.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a father walking with his three young children. The oldest, a boy who looked to be about four to five years old, was leading the pack.
I heard his father exclaim, "GENTLEMAN ALERT! GENTLEMAN ALERT! OPPORTUNITY TO BE A GENTLEMAN HERE!"
His young son's face lit up in anticipation. He didn't miss a beat. He saw me with my packages, ran ahead of me and opened the door with the sweetest, brightest open smile I've seen in a long time. His pride and joy at being able to help me were like bold rays of sunshine on an otherwise cold and bitter day.
I smiled right back and said, "Oh my gosh. Thank you so much! What a true gentleman you are! Really. Thank you so much. You just made my day!" Beaming, that kid was beaming.
The look of pride on his father's face was well deserved.
I loved that kid and I loved that father. Clearly he was a father who took his parenting very seriously and had not forgotten in an age where the word "gentleman" is on the endangered species list, how to teach his son to be aware of the needs of others, even strangers.
I think a lot of men have been rebuffed, especially by women, when they offer to hold open a door, pay for a dinner, walk to the right of the women they are with. They've been told it's insulting and demeaning.
I'm not one of those women and I never will be. I believe in the importance of chivalry...not the fairy tale "knight in shining armor who will whisk me away to the land of happy ever after", but the chivalry that is conveyed by small acts of mindfulness and care.
So Virginia, to answer your question, YES, there are still gentlemen left in the world. And when you see one, thank them. Tell them you noticed. Tell them you appreciate them. Teach your young sons and teach your young daughters to be gentlepeople.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love. And some manners and good graces wouldn't hurt either.