Appendix. The Cultivation of Courtesy
IN the New Church we are well aware that an empty mask of politeness is worth nothing. But the need of Courtesy is perennial. It is the ultimate form of all charity. Not that the value of our fellows should be measured by such externals as are commonly called "good manners" or "social graces". Recently--and for the first time--I examined various books on Manners and Etiquette. If you want a humiliating, depressing experience, read a book on "Etiquette". It made me feel very badly, and I gave up all thought of addressing you or anybody on the subject of Courtesy. But after some reflection I changed my mind, and decided that we all lived in such frail glass houses that nobody else was likely to start throwing stones, anyway. And so here I am, in the middle of a difficult subject!
My childhood was spent in a country where social traditions had created an inescapable but meaningless routine of external courtesies against which both common sense and sincerity had equally to rebel. Life's every detail seemed to be predestined from birth to death by set demands of social customs. Later, my pastoral activities brought me into another country where children and young people were taught the gentle art of self-restraint, to be exercised at all times, but especially in the presence of their elders. It was a very delightful experience. There was an absolute understanding that age commanded respect, and that children were only of potential importance. The young were taught, by precept and example, that "self-expression" was proper only after one had something of value to express. And having been brought up in that tradition, the children seemed to be as happy and free there as anywhere else.
On the continent of North America the history of the peoples has been different. What has been foremostly valued here is originality--not tradition; freedom--not order; youth and the pioneering spirit--not age and its conservatism ; experimentation--not custom. Less consistent emphasis has been placed, therefore, on Courtesy and Obedience as childish virtues. And on viewing the quaint humility of many European children, Americans are apt to ask the question whether the insistence on courtesy and obedience in children does not breed servility and even hypocrisy, and stamp out that progressive independence which we moderns treasure so much.
There is a subtle line to be drawn between two modes of teaching Courtesy, which perhaps goes a long way to answer that question. One way is to enforce the forms of courtesy, by establishing rigid rules of politeness and punishing the children who transgress: display our anger and displeasure; cow them, by towering over them like giants with blazing eyes, or lashing them with our tongues and crushing their spirits under our feet; humiliate them before their brothers and their friends, perhaps before company. They will obey then, for a brief while, as long as this spell binds them. Some will even remain fearfully and abjectly subservient, but inwardly bewildered. Other children will however bite their teeth together, and, in silence, despise you.
Most of us must plead guilty to having resorted at times to such a form of discipline, that of the drill-sergeant. In extreme cases, perhaps, something of the sort is excusable, and called for; although most of us, in saner moments, blame it on nerves or on dyspepsia, and recognize that even a sound, calmly administered spanking would have been more effective.
But on reflection it is fairly easy to see that while corporal punishment is of use in a number of instances, especially with the very young who have to learn to associate pain with evil and disobedience, yet courtesy can never be taught by the rod or the hand, nor by the exhibition of anger and sarcasm. Certain isolated forms or acts of polite behavior can of course be drilled into children. But the essence of Courtesy is more subtle than these. It is Respect, a respect which induces thoughtfulness, consideration for others. This essential of courtesy can be seen even among primitive peoples, whose customs are totally different.
The Writings speak of contempt for others in comparison with ourselves as the most telling sign of self-love. It is the first degree of that progression which leads to hatred. In the child, contempt of others lays the basis for a later religious intolerance, from the feeling of meritorious good which exalts oneself above others.
In the New Church it is important to realize that the humility which is proper to the state of childhood should have a religious foundation, and not merely be based in the child's realization that he is physically weaker and smaller than those whom he obeys. Humility must inmostly be associated with worship of the Lord. The brief hour of daily family prayers and of reading the Word and the Writings, gives occasion, as the children grow up, for the most intimate spiritual contacts between parents and children, for the discussion of spiritual and moral questions which bind the family together and shape the family's philosophy. Especially we wish to stress here that in a home where there is never any effort made to find place for a period of worship by the family-group, the inmost basis of Respect will also be found missing. Where reverence is not shown to what the Lord, the Maker and Redeemer, speaks and commands,--reverence for the Divine Word, the Law of the Church,--there can never be much reverence for the parental word, the commands and opinions of the parents. The parents, under such circumstances, do not represent anything of the Lord in the home: they only represent brute force and necessity and the source of daily bread. They are then not the media by which the Lord makes known His will, nor the leaders in the exercise of the religious instincts of the children. They are shut out from the most precious and exalted part of the child's life.
But neither could we assert that this inmost basis for parental authority and influence is in itself sufficient. It is indeed the most lasting, and children when grown up will expunge from their memories many of their parents' faults and mistakes while recalling those deeper gifts which they owe to their father and mother. Still, respect, as the basis of courtesy, must have a more personal meaning. Children, after all, are constantly, and from the first, reflections of their environment. They have a far keener instinct for the real meanings of situations than we might suspect. They are, at certain ages, extremely sensitive to inconsistencies between parental commands and parental behavior. They imitate the manners of their parents, and this both unconsciously and quite deliberately.
They are not mere apes. They can be reasoned with; they can be brought to see their place, if the attempt is made at the right times. But they are not as yet individuals in the adult sense. The Writings tell us that infants have as yet no sphere of their own. Even children are only in process of acquiring such a sphere. They are mainly in the sphere of their parents. And thus the sphere of the home is largely determined by the parents.
We all know this. We stay out later than usual for several nights, try to catch up in our work under the handicap of insufficient sleep, and then, "The children drive us hysterical"! It is usually we who introduce the atmosphere of nervous tension. We lose our sense of humor and proportion. Our voices are raised beyond necessity; our demands for courtesy in the children are unduly increased, our sympathy with the child's point-of-view is dulled by our fatigue, headache, or indigestion; we are impatient with the children's sense of mutual justice in trival things. And the children feel misunderstood, perhaps just when they have tried to do something they thought would please us. And so they become discouraged, or sullen and recalcitrant; and if the weather is bad outside and they are forced to associate with each other too closely for comfort, some of them go into tantrums, or begin to quarrel. And "life isn't worth living" in that home, for a time, until the parents have regained their mental poise, and are again encompassed with a sphere of peace and understanding.
I realize that what I say sounds like the confessionals in the Ladies' Home Journal! But the fact is that people who strive to regenerate their lives cannot do so simply from a doctrinal conscience, while they ignore reason and are blind to the lessons of experience. Once in a while some mistake in our educational methods strikes us, and we try to begin over in a new way and take a new lease of life and of family happiness. And so, also, in the problem of how to cultivate courtesy in children.
Children imitate. But they do not notice our polite or impolite ways with other adults half as much as they notice how we treat them. If we yell at them and scold them on every occasion, they will promptly yell at their younger brothers and sisters; for generally they are very touchy on the prerogatives of age. Certain modern writers have revived the rule of the genteel class of a hundred years ago that parents should teach politeness by cultivating a soft and peaceful voice, a charming voice, with themselves; a voice the children like to listen to, which impresses them affirmatively. Nagging and scolding are now shown, with truth, to be an outlet that is pleasurable to parents in certain states, while it does not really discipline the child, but only annoys him. New Church people would say that it is 'acting from the proprium' and is very satisfying to the spirits who are with us when we are in physical disorders and under mental strains or when we are in states of spiritual anxiety and temptation. Fortunately, the Lord forgives much that we think, say, and do while in such states. But that fact does not convert it into a good educational policy. We actually feel that we are losing the esteem of the child; and so on such occasions we try to storm the more in the vain attempt to recover our authority!
The main fact is that voice and language are only effective if their strength is reserved for occasions when their maximum power is required. Continual emphasis becomes meaningless. Shouting and stamping and passionate spanking become, as we know, merely indications that the child has the upper hand and is the real master of the home. The child, too, has a 'proprium', and sometimes very little else is discernible; and this proprium when aroused subconsciously enjoys the fact that it is so powerful that it can call forth such futile reactions in parents. There is, sad to say, that in a child, which is not averse, but actually feels flattered, if he sees parents suffering in administering discipline. Evils in children are at first quite impersonal to them; punishments also should be utterly impersonal: we punish the evil, not the child. Really 'difficult' children enjoy these thrills of self-importance: it is the awakening of that proprium which normally should slumber in infancy as long as possible. Make this proprium realize its own importance, and you invite premature problems of all sorts.
The doctrine of the non-appropriation of evil stresses that evil must be thought of not as originating in oneself but as coming by influx from hell, and similarly that good is not from one's self but by influx from heaven. If man thinks--and if a child is taught to think--according to this truth, the evils which come into his mind are not identified with himself and can thus the more readily be shunned. A child should thus not be called 'wicked' or 'nasty', for this only makes him want to defend his faults; but the evil itself should be so called. (AC 6206, 6324, 6325.)
Let me not be understood as saying that the proprium of the child is not aroused except when the proprium of the parent sends out sparks. Even those educated in heaven have temptations. Yet it is always from without, from the injection of the spheres of evil spirits, that such temptations come. Here in this world there is so much evil to kindle the proprium of the child, so much contact with obvious wickedness, that we need in the home--to create a sanctuary so far as we possibly can. The home should indeed be dedicated to the Child, so far as it can be done without sacrifice of higher uses. But this is not done if the child is openly treated as the most important member of the household. Then it is not the child, the future angel, that is catered to, but only the proprium of the child. And if the parents do not train themselves to resist that proprium and to temper it with reason rather than to rouse it into still more passionate rebellions, then the time comes when the child begins to train the parents to obey it.
* * *
Now what has all this to do with insinuating courtesy into children ? Just this: You cannot be satisfied merely to jorce the child to be polite. What you want the children to like should not appear as any punishment! Courtesy is a form of Respect. Respect for parents is necessary, before there can be consideration and thoughtfulness for elders. Parents must be known to their children as dependable paragons of justice and fairness, if they are to have an influence in those subtler realms of child-life which do not merely have to do with good habits, but with that attitude of the children towards others which in the long run dictates their behavior-reactions in all kinds of future situations which parents cannot foresee.
There may be parents who, being naturally modest, or extremely 'modern', or perhaps unduly frightened by the difficulty of handling children, tend to evade the responsibility brought by age and better knowledge; and thus do not insist on the honor that is due them.
But the honor due to age and parenthood is not ours to decline, for it is honor due not to us, but to the office which places us as representatives of the Lord and as teachers of His commandments. Parents should not refuse that respect which children render them. To receive that respect graciously and to preserve it genuine and wholesome and deserved, is part of the parental function--the function of all adults in varying degrees, the function of the servants of the Church and of the officers of the civil government. A king has no right to refuse the honors rendered to his office. The honors attached to civil functions are called in the Writings "the hands of the king and the pillars of society" (TCR 403). This law of representation is involved in the ancient precept given to the Hebrews: "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God. I am the Lord." (Lev. xix. 32.)
A question here obtrudes itself, whether Respect is really a sufficient ground-work for Courtesy. The fact comes to mind, that the children often judge others very unfavorably from superficial contacts. Without much ability to read character, they take quick dislikes. They form prejudices, which are often very foolish, against schoolmates or teachers, or others. And thus they have no respect for them, and show it very obviously by rudeness and flippancy, and occasionally, in extreme cases, by what amounts to persecutions. This is especially the case in the "gang-age".
Now they know they ought to be respectful to elders But they also feel it unmanly or cowardly to act differently from what they feel. Impudence and boldness develop, which again may grow into wildness and rebellion and anti-social actions, if not counteracted in time. It is therefore needful that parents try to make their children somehow see that Sincerity does not obligate one to express every passing mood in full nakedness, as do the babies whose very faults appear so "cute", "cunning", and "laughable". Sincerity means the expression of one's deepest convictions and ideals, one's Conscience ! And this often means a suppression of passing moods, frivolous or passionate.
The "conscience" of children is inevitably bound up with their love of parents, and with respect for parental leadership. It does not as yet stand on its own feet. Still it is this second-hand conscience which must be the beginning and source of true sincerity.
And so, again, we come back to the parents, teachers, or adults! And we parents see so many faults in ourselves, and constantly discover how they are mirrored in the children. We find it exceedingly difficult to change our own manners. But we can determine to try to change in some one respect, as for instance to avoid the quarrelsome attitude to our children, to avoid the high pitch which makes them and us nervous and excited. As someone has said, the word "No" should be so consistently used that it means "no" in any tone of voice. A resolution on our part never to yell, bark, or snarl at our children, is of course soon broken in these days of overfilled social calendars, overstimulated minds and overspent budgets. But while we maintain it, as an experiment in self-control and concerted parental effort in education, we would find it a real God-send to our nerves, find that it actually produces a remarkable atmosphere in the home, and a greater cooperation and considerate courtesies from the children. Even the baby feels the sphere.
Some of you may say--with some justice--that I have been 'carrying coals to Newcastle'. Indeed, as a group, we have set up lofty standards. No member of a New Church society would countenance the manners of the snob or the street-urchin in their children. Yet many of these children, even when they come out of Children's Service of a Sunday morning, will rush down the road past their elders with utter obliviousness of their presence. They can "cut" you with a haughty independence, and make you step aside for them on a path. After a few years of secondary education, many of them become quite deferential, and some quite charming in their manner. But in the Elementary School age!
Now these rude manners are only ebullitions of the native thoughtlessness of childhood. But the more of it there is, the harder it becomes to establish that basis of Reverence for the wisdom which elders attempt to transmit from the Past to the new generations. During the years of the last period of financial "Depression", a noticeable and much needed improvement was seen in the manners of people, and in the valuation of family ties. The employer, the customer, the teacher, the parent, were all regarded with more sympathy and respect. But independence, with many people, brings self-esteem, and with it officiousness and bad manners.
I am not among those who contrast with bitter regrets the graces of a hundred years ago. Those forms of courtesy are not for to-day. And we may well shudder at the rudeness and vulgarity which was then practiced by multitudes. Greater educational opportunities have tended to level the standards of manners toward a common mean. I would not exchange the opportunities we now have for anything in the Past.
Courtesy does not come merely by requiring set forms, or by enforced scientific rules. It is an art, a fine art, and it flows from Charity and consideration and from a rational appreciation of the uses and functions of others. It comes from respect; from the instinct, within the celestial remains implanted in the child, to worship and admire what is good and genuine and consistent and true and selfless. It does not come from nagging (as many of us have found to our distress), nor from emotional appeals, nor from setting impossibly high standards for the child. It does not come without continual instruction; and the best instruction is usually informal but clear and backed with reasons that the child can understand. A baby does not need reasons, but imitates and--likes it. An older child will usually accept your explanation, even though he may make a wry face over it.
The salvation of the future man depends on the growth of his rational. We parents must recognize the child as a rational creature not yet developed: he is not merely a bunch of instincts. The rational is there; ready and even anxious to be appealed to, but in a quiet, matter of fact way. Children can be cowed into obedience, but Courtesy comes from reasonable and discriminate faith in the elders and their ways, and a consequent humility about their own state. Familiarity, apart from this appreciation, breeds contempt. It is not enough to "be a pal" to your children, you must be a guide, a teacher.
In concluding, let me ask if there is anything which approaches heaven on earth more than a home where Courtesy and Sincerity can be combined! Where affections are based on rational grounds; not on mere sentimentality which continually demands its pound of flesh, and turns the ties of blood-relationships into terrible bonds! A home becomes a heaven, if we can relax in it from the strains of labor, and find from each other a ready sympathy, an understanding cooperation. We have the spiritual principles of heavenly life given us in the Writings as a basis of spiritual Conscience! All we have to do further is not to take our ambitions, social or secular, so seriously that we pay for them in blood-coins and steel our minds against the softening spheres which bring real values even into our external life and into the lives of our children.