Why say, “May I,” “Please,” “Thank you?” Are they just words we’ve been taught to say in order to appear polite? Well bred? What do these words say about us? How do you feel when you hear them? Manners are methods of habitual social behavior defined by prevalent customs. In the past, some societies have been restricted to the use of certain manners to indicate social position. Today, we look more simply at manners as behavior we use to treat other people with kindness and respect.
Appropriate manners have been generally based on The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If we want others to treat us well, we need to treat them well. It’s a matter of give and you will receive. When someone is kind to us, we are likely to treat that person kindly. People all over the world, no matter who they are or what they do, want to be treated respectfully.
We are all human. Sometimes we get into situations in which we are scared. In those situations, we can easily forget to act respectfully, toward ourselves as well as to others. Perhaps we meet someone who appears threatening, or someone says something that hurts our feeling. Maybe someone we know acts dishonestly towards us. We forget sometimes, when meeting people different from us, to act honorably toward them. Sometimes, caught up in our own hopes and desires, we forget to share time with others; we usurp it all, focusing only on ourselves. Whether working, playing or just being with other people, there are usually circumstances in which we forget to look outside ourselves to see how others are doing, whether we are treating them well, whether they need help.
Why bother to learn manners? Is it a matter of getting our children to obey us? Do we believe that their using manners will make them more controllable? Easier to teach? Better people? Is using manners the difference between a child who is good and one who is bad?
Perhaps you and I were taught manners at home because our parents believed that “bad” manners would reflect on them and their ability to bring up proper children. They worried about how other people saw them. Or perhaps our parents used manners as a way to reward or punish us to teach us to be “good.” Will these “old fashion” reasons motivate our students to learn manners in today’s world?
There is one basic reason for using manners in our lives and it has nothing to do with good or bad, or reward and punishment. That reason is to live in a loving and intelligent relationship with people around us— people we know and people we don’t know—so that there is respect among people for one another that comes from a natural sense of cooperation. Manners help us feel genuinely good about others and ourselves. Expressing our thoughts, feelings, words and actions in a loving and intelligent way, we are less likely to feel in conflict with other people. As you already know, the martial artist’s highest goal is to stop conflict before it begins. By learning and using manners we naturally develop “Code of Conduct” that reduces the potential for conflict because we have learned how to act in ways that promote well being and respect.
Moral development does need to be taught. But it is the way we teach respect that is all-important — a way of learning respect that is not based of judgment, on punishment and reward, on being bad or good. Respect, kindness, bravery, courteousness, honesty and intelligence are desired values we want to see in our children. The Martial Arts can be a unique, entertaining and educational way to teach a Martial Arts “Code of Conduct”. Acting respectfully comes not only from the physical discipline, but also from a well thought-out program of teaching values—the psychological and social aspect of the Martial Arts.