Archive for April, 2013

Derekh Eretz: The Way of the Land – Common Decency and Good Manners

“Among those who stand, do not sit;  among those who sit, do not stand;

among those who laugh, do not weep; among those who weep, do not laugh.”

~Rabbi Hillel

When we moved to Washington, DC, we left our car in California. At least until I find a job that may require me to have an automobile,  we are using public transportation.  “The District” has an outstanding mass transit system composed of Metro Rail and buses that can get you just about anywhere you need to go.  I really love it. Mostly because while on the train or bus, I can read or do work – and yes, play Scrabble© on my iPhone!   I also do not have to deal with traffic.

Many years ago, when I was a child, I would go into downtown Los Angeles with my grandmother (z’l) to go shopping. My grandmother did not drive, so we always took the bus. It was made very clear to me that I could have a seat on the bus only as long as everyone else was seated. However, the moment anyone older than me got on the bus and there was no seat available, I was to get up quickly and give them my seat.  Back then, I do not recall there being special spaces reserved for “seniors and disabled persons.”  It seems everyone knew that common courtesy was offered to the elderly, the blind, individuals in wheelchairs or with canes, pregnant women, women with babies, etc.

Something has certainly changed in the years since I made those trips downtown with my grandmother. I know I raised my children to get up and give their seat to others. I do not see that those guidelines have been shared with others. Or is it just that “My mother is not around, so I don’t have to play by her rules”? It’s unfortunate.  I stare in wonder while healthy, able young people sit in the front of the bus with music blasting through their ear plugs, eyes fixed to their cell phone screens, fingers busily typing as older or disabled people walk by with no place to sit. If I am not already standing up, I give my seat to the new arrivals. Do I want to put my face up next to these youngsters and tell them to get up? Of course, but it is not my message to deliver (at least according to my husband and children.)  Instead, I’ll use my experiences as an example and deliver the message here:  we must teach our children Derekh Eretz (literally “the way of the land”)/Common decency and good manners. They should know that this is the behavior we expect from them as they travel through life.  After all, isn’t this just an offshoot of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others…”?

Here are a few great books that may support you in your lessons:

Manners written and illustrated by Aliki. ©1997, Greenwillow Books. Ages 4-8. This timeless classic uses role playing and descriptive illustrations to illustrate the Do’s and Don’ts of proper behavior. There is certain to be some giggling while watching bad table behavior, and some knowing smiles regarding sharing and tantrums. In the end, however, everyone should come away with a clear understanding of the proper way to behave in a variety of situations.

Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners written and illustrated by Laurie Keller. ©2007, Henry Holt and Company. Ages 5-9.  A family of otters has moved in next door to Mr. Rabbit.  Since he does not know anything about otters, he is very nervous that they will be mean, like his previous neighbor, Mrs. Grrrrrrr. As he tells Mr. Owl what he would expect from his new neighbors, it becomes clear that he will have nothing to worry about…as long as he will just “Doo-Dee-Doo unto otters as [he]would have otters Doo-Dee-Doo unto [him].” The delightful illustrations enhance the lessons here.

Mind Your Manners, B. B. Wolf by Judy Sierra. Illustrated by Jotto Seibold. ©2007, Alfred A. Knopf.  Ages 5-9. When the Big Bad Wolf is invited to a tea party at the library, he is not sure what to do. After his best friend, the crocodile, gets out the Big Wide Book of Etiquette and explains the rules of “taking tea,” B.B. decides he will attend. All the major storybook characters are there, and quite frightened when he shows up. But he is on his best behavior, at least as long as he can be.  Hilarity abounds for everyone when B. B. Wolf comes to the party.

365 Manners Kids Should Know: Games, Activities, and Other Fun Ways to Help Children and Teens Learn Etiquette by Sheryl Eberly with Caroline Eberly. ©2011, Three Rivers Press. Ages 9-Adult.  For every day of the year, for every behavioral topic, this mother-daughter team has created a brief, but extremely helpful piece of information often accompanied by an activity or a tip to get you started applying the message immediately. From “Opening Doors” to “Internet Safety,” from “getting Along With Other Kids” to “Being Green,” I was unable to find a topic that was not covered by these two where manners was concerned. Whether you have your child read this to work on some projects or read this as a family and work on things together, there is a wealth of superb information inside these covers.

©2013 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by my local public library.
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