MY VIEW: Social graces, etiquette never hurt anyone

Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 10:59 AM.

A while back, during the Jacksonville Bolles – Crestview football game, I was engrossed in the field’s goings-on on when my attention was taken by a young man, a student whom I had mentored last year.
I inquired how he was doing since he has moved on to Davidson Middle School, and I assured him that I was following his progress through a Northwood Elementary teacher.
We spent most of a quarter of the ballgame discussing one play or another; mixed into our conversation were comments about what we accomplished during our weekly times together. One thing that made an impression on him was something that was not in any textbook — and, I’ll bet, is rarely, if ever, taught in any classroom or most homes.
Last year, the young man and I were seated at a table in the school’s media center. I do not remember what it was that we were working on, but I looked up to see a female teacher coming to speak with us. Without any thought about my actions, I immediately arose from my seat and stood throughout our conversation. Whatever it was that we discussed does not matter, and frankly, I do not remember.
After the teacher had departed the area where we were working, the student asked why I rose and stayed standing while talking with the teacher.
Wow!
This allowed me to teach something that I am certain this young man will never forget. I asked if he knew anything about etiquette, and he admitted that he didn’t even know what the word meant.
I acquainted him with the “rule” that a gentleman rises if seated when a lady approaches him, and that he remains standing throughout the conversation. He questioned my sincerity, for he thought that I was “pulling his leg.” Well, when a woman approached us a couple of weeks later, and he saw me sliding back in my chair, he was up and on his feet faster than this old man!
Surprisingly, as time went on, and interspersed with solving an arithmetic problem or discussing something in a science assignment, we often discussed other situations that, once learned, become automatic.
We did not discuss which side the fork or spoon is placed on, or myriad subjects that fill an Emily Post book. Nevertheless, there is now a young man in middle school who knows that he removes his hat when he enters a building, or that he steps forward to grasp a doorknob and open a door for a lady – whether she is a young girl or an octogenarian.
It is unfortunate that few children seem to know these things. If a young lady knew what was expected, perhaps she would demand consideration and respect.
Speaking of social graces, I remember when I was in eighth grade and we filed into the locker room beneath our gymnasium. We opened our lockers and were about to don gym clothes when our coach came out of his office and told us not to bother changing, and that we were going upstairs in our “street clothes.”
We had no idea of the reason for this, for we had never done something like this before.
As we stood around, the coach had us line up near the collapsible wall that separated the “boys gym” from the “girls gym.” Just then, the wall’s panels began to move and fan fold into a depression at the end of the gym.
On the other side of the wall stood all the girls, who were scheduled for gym class during the same period. They, too, had “street clothes” on.
As we stood looking at each other, one of our gym teachers came between us, told us to “count out,” and then find the girl with the same number. Next, we were told that this would be our first partner for dance lessons.
Some of us were a bit skeptical about learning to dance, but the faculty was not going to take “no” for an answer.
In the next couple of weeks, we were exposed to the foxtrot and the waltz.
Did it hurt us?
Perhaps it wasn’t to our liking at the time, but it sure paid off when we got into high school and throughout our adult lives.
Yes, social graces and a dose of etiquette never hurt anyone. Perhaps it is time to forego preparations for the FCAT for a couple of classroom hours and devote a similar period for lessons that will pay unknown dividends in the years to come.

Bob Allen is a former Crestview City Council member.
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