I Bought a Book on Etiquette Today

by Enitan Doherty-Mason

“To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” – Theodore Roosevelt

I procure books for people who desire them. Today, I purchased a book on etiquette. It was a most unusual request. Someone had actually asked me to purchase a book on etiquette for her. I promptly asked if she wanted a book for a child or an adult. Her response was wide open. Her intent was similar to Christianizing a pagan by throwing a bible at him/her. Smiling wickedly, I also had thought of a million people that I’d like to send one to. I had bitten my tongue, chided myself for such judgmental thoughts and said nothing.

I’m not a prude nor exactly am I “Miss Manners”, but I grew up believing that good etiquette and moral behavior are to be applauded. Good etiquette is knowingly being considerate of others; it evens out those rough places in ones interactions with others. By good manners, I refer to much more than those societal rules that keep your feet off the dining table and your fingers out of your nose.

When I speak of etiquette as an African woman, I don’t mean the practiced fawning over adults that comes from over-emphasis on showing respect to all elders including those who are so vulgar and unscrupulous that they leave any thinking person little to respect them for. I do not mean the pretentious politeness and attentiveness displayed wherever there appears to be gain, financial or otherwise. Good manners are not about kowtowing to your elders.

By good manners, I mean the act of habitually conducting oneself appropriately …including when no one is watching. I mean the type of behavior that is the result of having an inner mechanism that feels shame and causes soul searching because you are clear on what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behavior and have chosen appropriateness. I mean etiquette that comes from having a conscience and an openness to learn.

I am not embarrassed to say that I own and refer to a book on etiquette for the western world even as I continue to adhere to the rules of etiquette of Yoruba people (many of which are yet to be cataloged on paper) as I have been taught and as I have learned over the years. Living in the United States has not quieted my taste for good manners. Perhaps being an educator has made me even more aware of the decline of good manners among many of our children, some who stand gaping at guests without as much as a greeting. Grunting at guests or deciding which ones to greet only after one has had a chance to see the model of their car is insanely foolish! Looking stupid, in my opinion has never been a sign of advancement in any culture.

When we wonder what has gone wrong with our Nigeria, we must first look back into our homes and wonder what is going on in our individual families. While ballet and horse back riding classes may produce a child with a wider range of skills, will they alone produce the kind of adult you would like to have around you or to do business with? Child worship and self advertisement among Nigerian parents are definitely on the rise while common sense and good manners are on the decline.

Now that many of us earn higher incomes than our parents did, we have become more caught up in the “My Mercedes Benz is Bigger than Yours” mentality. (I thank that wonderful author, Nkem Nwankwo for making this phrase possible.) We feel compelled to provide all the trappings of wealth that our money and credit can obtain for our children. We can now afford to advertise our religiosity and membership in the “groups de jour” with as much zeal as McDonald Restaurants display the yellow arches.

We maintain the status quo and then complain bitterly when others do unto us as we and our children are prepared to do unto them. We forget yet again to extend our zeal to the moral upbringing of our children and the quality of the people that we turn loose on society. We create a multitude of religious leaders and few righteous men. Somewhere along the line we have forgotten what is right and what makes sense.

I think I will buy an extra copy of that book on etiquette later on today. Perhaps another Nigerian parent will find a nugget as he/she thumbs through the pages of a gift book.

No. I have not joined the Moral Majority. No. I have not had a religious awakening.

“The education of a man is never completed until he dies.” – Robert E. Lee

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1 comment

Rosie May 10, 2008 - 1:39 pm

We all need one of those.


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