As my hubby and I pulled up to the front door of the fancy five-star steakhouse that a friend had given us a gift certificate for, we were shocked by the sign that awaited us.
Given that this restaurant is known for its romantic ambiance, elegant interior and tables draped in crisp white tablecloths, I was looking forward to a classy date night.
So, the sign really threw me for a loop: “Kindly remove your hat when entering the restaurant. Thank you for not wearing gym wear, sweat pants, tank tops, clothing with offensive graphics or language, or exposed undergarments.”
Seriously? Have moms and dads so neglected teaching basic civility and manners that a restaurant manager has to tell people how not to dress?
Maybe it’s time for a manners revolution.
If you’re a regular reader of my column, then you know I frequently write about public policy. Not so today. Teaching manners and civility is a matter of family policy. Your family policy.
It was my mom who taught me how to dress for the situation, and I pretty much knew the rules by age 5. While I understand and even appreciate today’s very casual style, apparently there are a lot of adults who don’t know that it’s downright rude to wear sweatpants in some places.
Dressing appropriately is more a matter of practicing basic civility and respect toward others than it is about fashion.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the older couple at a table near us, dressed to the nines for their big night out at a special place, and how disrespectful it would be for a woman to plop down next to them with her undies on display. Or for a man to show up wearing gym clothes and a baseball cap.
Children don’t learn good graces and how to be thoughtful unless their parents take the time to teach them. You have to start young and reinforce, reinforce, reinforce every day of your child’s life to build respect and kindness.
Why? Because American society and institutions used to come alongside parents and reinforce respectful behavior; but for three or more decades now, the culture has taught us to be self-centered, technologically oriented to the point of tuning out real relationships, and just plain rude.
And, as recent news reports testify, our culture has also taught us to tolerate highly disrespectful and immoral behavior like sexual harassment.
Apathy toward indecent, uncivil and immoral behavior has been the undoing of many a society throughout history. Nations filled with individuals who are apathetic about how they treat others ultimately become nations marred by selfishness and greed.
History shows us that no enemy was able to defeat ancient Rome; Rome fell from within when it became morally bankrupt. A country composed of selfish, greedy, immoral individuals cannot stand. Common decency, civility and morality are intertwined, and the future of our children as individuals and our society as a whole utterly depend on them.
Consider the words of professor Alexander Fraser Tytler, an 18th-century historian and economist who wrote the following in his central work, “The Cycle of Democracy,” in 1778: “The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back into bondage.”
Ours is an apathetic society, to say the least. If our children are to have a future of freedom, it’s going to be up to us to start restoring the very basis of a civil society: our civility.
To truly influence the culture, we must teach our children to be respectful, helpful, courteous and generous. We must teach them to continue exhibiting these traits even if they never receive a smile or thanks in return. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.
Remember, it’s about way more than the sweatpants.
• Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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