Once, when I was a girl, Mother and I got all dressed up and walked across the street to a wedding held at our church building. Like a proper little girl in the 1960s, I wore white gloves. When I got to the guest registry at the back of the church, I didn’t quite know what to do. How could I sign my name with my gloves on? I decided to take them off. Then, I did what I must have always done when I needed to take off my gloves, I put one finger between my teeth and tugged.
I remember that incident because I was embarrassed when someone who saw me laughed at me.
I guess I’ll show my age when I say that I miss the days when people dressed up for many occasions. I especially miss the days when I knew that everyone in a hotel lobby would be wearing day clothes and none of the adults would be wearing their pajamas.
What I really miss are the days when manners mattered. I used always to know when to go through a door or when to get on or off an elevator because people followed the manners that mamas, teachers, and club leaders taught us when we were young. It went like this: the oldest woman got off first, then the other women, then the older men, and finally the youngest man. Too often now, it seems to be everyone for himself or herself.
Those women didn’t just teach us about doors and elevators. They taught us how to sit with our ankles crossed, how to hold our heads erect, how to set a table, and other skills they believed were important. Maybe setting a proper table isn’t that important anymore, but sitting in a ladylike manner, good posture, and respect for women and for older people are still very good ideas.
I like the idea that good manners all boil down to one principle that Jesus taught:
In everything, therefore, treat people
the same way you want them to treat you,
for this is the Law and the Prophets.
The concept of respect for older people is also a Biblical one. In the Law, God told the Israelites:
You shall stand up in the presence of the grayheaded
and honor elders, and you shall fear your God;
I am the Lord.
God’s Word also teaches other concepts related to manners. One is respect.
Pay to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due;
custom to whom custom; respect to whom respect;
honor to whom honor.
Another Biblical concept is dignity. I don’t hear much about dignity. I’d like to see dignity make a comeback.
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when we think of dignity is a respected older man or woman dressed in clothes that seem rather formal in today’s society. The Biblical concept of dignity is not restricted to older people. Paul mentioned it several times in his letters to young men. Paul told young Titus to be dignified (Titus 2:7). He said that deacons must be men of dignity (1 Timothy 3:11) and that women must be dignified (1 Timothy 3:11). Paul said that elders must be men who keep their children under control with all dignity.
Paul also told us to pray so that we could live with dignity.
First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers,
intercession, and thanksgiving be made in behalf of all people,
for kings and all who are in authority,
so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life
in all godliness and dignity.
1 Timothy 2:1-2
And when King Solomon described the excellent woman in Proverbs 31, he said:
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.