Friday, May 27, 2011

Adult Learning

Recent events have got me wondering - at what point should we stop being taught manners.

It's assumed that by the time we are an adult, we have developed the skill-set necessary to conduct ourselves appropriately in most situations... particularly those situations that are common and comfortable (ie: having a telephone conversation with a stranger, checking out at the cash register, attending a party, giving/receiving a gift, etc).

As a child, I distinctly remember a number of occasions where my mother would guide me the right way. Why have these events stuck with me all these years? Because the even themselves aren't important, but the message sure as heck was!:

1. The "Troll" Placemat incident:
My mom, while out shopping one day, saw this super-cute Troll doll placement and knew in her heart of hearts that her very odd little daughter would love it. Because she's so kind and giving, she purchased this for me as a little surprise - it wasn't my birthday, or any special day in particular.

A few (literally) days later, on a visit to my grandmother's house, I was presented with the exact same generous gift from dear granny. Having already owned the placement and having already expressed the appropriate amount of excitement the first time I received this - I was faced with two options: a) tell my grandmother I already owned this, but thanks anyways, or b) put on an Oscar-worthy performance on how much I loved the gift.

Much to my mother's satisfaction, I chose option b. As we arrived home that evening after our visit, my troll placemat in hand, my other told me that she was very proud of the way I handled the situation and that it pleased my grandmother to know she made me happy with the little surprise.

What I learned from my mom here? It's important to receive gifts graciously and with heartfelt gratitude; even if you already own something similar, or you despise it more than anything you've ever received before.

2. The School-Dance incident:
Whilst getting ready for my very first school dance, mom pulled me aside and said "Tara-Jane, dear, if a boy asks you to dance, please say yes. It took him a lot of nerve to walk up to you and ask you that.... you only have to do it once!". I groaned at her and her motherly ways, and begrudgingly agreed that I wouldn't be a jerk-face.

And then it happened. The first slow-dance of the night. And who saunters over but the dude who wipes boogies on his sleeve :( super nice kid, but crusted in boogies. "Tara will you dance with me?". Picture, if you will, a movie... The scene goes still and there's a voice-over. That voice-over (while time is standing still) is my mother telling me that I only have to do it once (HA! This sounds funny, and I assure you this was not her attitude towards other things boys might ask me to do... just dancing, I swear!).

"I'm not a big dancer, but I will dance with you at least once." That was my answer. Likely not exactly what my mom had in mind, but I compromised. Alas, the song was Stairway to Heaven and felt like it lasted an eternity. Definitely 3 dances worth in that one song.

After the dance was done, he returned to his group of friends and they all high-fived him. He came up to me the next Monday and told me I was the first girl he danced with and thanked me.

Mom gave me a lot of other good advice too, like:

If someone asks you to touch your elbows behind your back, don't try it and don't sit cross-legged in a skirt without underwear.

But all this great advice came when I was a child. Is that enough? Do we need to stop "learning" when we're adults because we figure we know it all?

What happens when you're taking piano lessons as a kid and practice every night and then step away from it for 20 years? Can you sit down and play Clare de Lune for your friends and family on command without having seen the sheet music in two decades?

One would assume, however, that manners is something you practice every day, so it should never be forgotten... But as adults, we also tend to become a little more reserved in our attempts at correcting poor behaviour. If my friend is short with a cashier, I don't pull her aside and tell her that she behaved inappropriately and that she's not getting that McDonald's Happy Meal now! (Though, maybe I should...)

So, should it really surprise me that my 3 year old has more manners than some of the adults I know?

...Maybe not.

Signing off, still pondering....


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