Some time ago one of the Relief Society teachers arrived for a board meeting at my house at exactly seven o’clock.
I opened the door. “You’re right on time,” I said.
“Oh I know,” she deadpanned. “I wasn’t raised in the church.”
Has “Mormon Standard Time” become a fact, rather than an exception? Are we really known for being that inconsiderate of other people’s time? I know lots of punctual members, and strain to have patience with those who aren’t. But how do we come across to those outside our faith? Do they really think it’s okay to be disorganized and unreliable?
Perpetually late arrivers usually don’t see their bad habit as falling into the “poor manners” category, but that’s exactly where it is. Running through life with no apparent definition of “rude” puts you squarely in it much of the time.
I recently served refreshments after an early stake fireside for families. And, while I was pouring water and handing it to the youngsters who were first to swarm the area like a pack of piranhas, only one little girl out of the dozens there thanked me. Others were piling their plates high with as many cookies and brownies as they could stack into a tower, grabbing their drinks from me, and no parents were in sight to correct this behavior. My worst fear was that a non-member would witness this uncivilized stampede and conclude that LDS parents are negligent, uncouth, lazy, or all three.
At the Sacramento Temple Open House, it wasn’t the nonmember kids who were out of control, jumping on the furniture and pulling buttons off the upholstery; it was our own. And their parents ignored it.
Ask any elderly person if they’ve noticed a decline in etiquette over the years and they’ll tell you about the appalling disappearance of “please” and “thank you” in today’s young people. Children with no phone manners who are allowed to answer the phone, and then scream into the receiver for their parents. Kids who sass their parents openly. Teens who reach way across the table to grab the butter. The list goes on and on. Each generation seems sloppier than the last.
But as Latter-day Saints, we should be head and shoulders above that behavior, not blending into the worldly carelessness around us. Our children should be the models of refinement, setting the bar for manners and consideration in all their classrooms. At Parent-Teacher conferences, their teachers should rave about what a good upbringing they demonstrate.
At ward events, and certainly at church, children shouldn’t run wild through the hallways, crashing into elderly widows and then taking off again without so much as an apology. They shouldn’t interrupt, they shouldn’t demand, and they shouldn’t grab.
If we want these youngsters to serve successful missions one day, and indeed be community leaders and good examples, we cannot allow them to chew with their mouths full, cough into people’s faces, yell across a room instead of going to the person they’re addressing, or grab handfuls of refreshments. How will an investigator react if they serve dinner to a pair of missionaries who act as if they’re at a feeding trough?
My hope is that “Mormon Manners” will become a term understood worldwide, by members and others alike. We should be known for the great respect we give others, which is what having manners is really all about. Ours should be the standard of good behavior, the definition of conduct expected in restaurants, businesses, the military— everywhere.
Herewith is a list of just 20 ways to ensure that your children will gather sheep, not lose them:
- Don’t use the excuse that you have too many children to worry about this; some of the most well-mannered people I know come from families of a dozen children or more. You simply have to make manners a family value.
- Have children practice correct phone etiquette and only allow them to answer the phone when they have mastered it.
- Use your best manners at the dinner table. Napkins on the lap, chairs pushed in when you get up, the whole bit. Practice solidifies habits.
- Forbid the use of electronic devices during dinner and church. No texting whatsoever.
- Get one of the excellent “teen etiquette” books on the market and make sure your children read it. You read it, too. Or, look up lists of good manners online and have a Family Home Evening about it.
- Teach your children to write thank-you notes for gifts, and tell them one is in order to every family who feeds them, on their missions. At the very least, get them to send an email of thanks; at least it shows gratitude.
- Teach them to appreciate you, by insisting on a verbal “thank you” for laundry, meals, rides to soccer games, taking them to seminary, you-name-it.
- Teach children there are indoor voices and outdoor voices, and raising one’s voice indoors is considered rude.
- Teach punctuality. Demonstrate it. Explain its importance. Have consequences for kids who repeatedly disregard other peoples’ time.
- Do not allow children to speak unkindly to one another. No name calling, no door slamming, no picking on each other. You can’t always control feelings, but you can absolutely control behavior.
- Teach your sons to hold the door open for women at church, at the supermarket, anywhere. And teach all of them to say, “Excuse me,” when they cross in front of someone.
- Show your kids how to put reasonable portions of food on their plates, and then request seconds later, after others are served. And never take the last scoop of anything, or the last roll.
- Teach them online manners, and have them tell you what looks coarse or unkind on Facebook and other sites they visit. Remind them that teachers and employers look at their entries, too.
- Teach your children how to have a firm handshake, and to look people in the eyes when speaking to them.
- Role play to teach kids dating etiquette, when they’re old enough to date.
- Tell kids to call and let their friend know either way, when an invitation says RSVP. You do the same. The best time to do this is when you open the envelope and still have the invitation in your hand. Check your calendar, make a decision, place the call, and then jot down the event. (Then you can toss out the paperwork!)
- Be on time to Sacrament meeting, with little ones “drinked and drained.” Going in and out during the meeting is rude and irreverent.
- Say “thank you” to anyone, anytime, anywhere if someone helps you. If a person steps aside so you can get into your car, if someone lets you ahead of them in line, if someone holds a door for you-do not commit the sin of ingratitude.
- In a crowd, always look around for the person no one is speaking to, and ask them something. Get their opinion, get to know them, include them. Even young children can learn to do this.
- Teach children to be quick to apologize if they step on someone’s feet, bump them, or otherwise make a mistake. How many couples do you know who suffer because one or both parties can’t say the simple words, “I’m sorry”? Prevent your child from being such a person by teaching them it isn’t painful to apologize, but rather builds bridges of respect.
There are dozens of additional ways to show consideration to others. Your children might even enjoy putting together a “family etiquette book” of rules that make your family shine. Let’s make “Mormon Manners” a positive trait we’re known for, a level of respectful behavior you can always count on from LDS kids and adults alike.
Joni Hilton’s latest book is just out! “FUNERAL POTATOES-THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is now in LDS bookstores.
She has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music & The Spoken Word,” many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California.