Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Miss Manners Speaks

Advice for all of us from the incomparable Judith Martin's "Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children:

The harsh truth is that there is no more hostile and humiliating social environment than grades K through eight. There is no ambiguity in the insults; descending the scale of popularity is not like stepping on a down escalator but rather like stepping into an empty elevator shaft; and there is no escape, either, into new circles or old philosophy.

You have heard, perhaps, of such advantages as beauty, brains, wealth, or charm. Forget them. It may be accepted, in your class, that this person is "pretty" and that one "smart"; it may be known that one has a big allowance and another is always nice enough to share. In this age group, none of these characteristics has anything to do with popularity, and often they have nothing to do with the people who are supposed to have them.

The only social skill worth having in this unpleasant milieu is the ability to appear indifferent to the opinions of others, neither seeking their love nor noticing their scorn. Those who can manage this will be rewarded with popularity, and those who seem anxious to possess popularity will be either slaves or outcasts, the toadies or the victims of those who have it. Popular children often behave badly because, as we know, power corrupts. But those who commit the sin of wanting to be popular usually behave scandalously, competing in their cruelties to one another for the favor of those above.

Miss Manners begs you, whatever your rank, not to indulge in the practice of taunting or maligning others. She would not dream of appealing to your moral sense with this plea, but advances it on strictly practical grounds. Excessive meanness, like excessive generosity, is correctly interpreted by children as anxiety to please, which they consider the greatest of social crimes. ... Calm, cheerful, pleasant, unruffled indifference, no matter how severe the provocation, is your only hope of achieving popularity. Even if you fail, you will be loved later in life by those to whom you recount your brave attempts. Confessing to having been a bully is worth nothing in the tame adult world.

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At 8:36 AM, Blogger Isabella said...

How complicated. How do you teach indifference to your children? How do you foster "the ability to appear indifferent to the opinions of others"?

Do children really consider anxiety to please the greatest of social crimes? Don't children try to please from day 1, when they are rewarded with attention and love?

At the core, she's right: labels and taunts don't "matter," but "indifference" is a loaded word and, I think, the wrong one to use here.

I guess I'm supposed to value popularity and strive for it? I wonder how she defines "perfect children." Seems a little simplistic for 2002. I'm open to child manual recommendations.

(Disclaimer: I'm responding before I've had coffee. Silly me.)

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Craig said...

My family moved quite often when I was in school. I went to kindergarden and 1st grade in one school, 2nd grade in another, 3rd in another, 4th, 5th and 6th in another, and still another school for 7th, 8th and 9th, so I was perpetually the new kid in town and didn't need to feign indifference. It came naturally. But the obverse was never being in one place long enough to consolidate any gains. "Tell the people that you saw me and I was passing through."

At 3:56 PM, Blogger Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

If it were only so simple as to be able to influence a child, with visions of the future.

Then again, sometimes that future need be only week away. I suspect your mentee can attest to that.

At 5:59 PM, Blogger Michele said...

"Miss Manners begs you, whatever your rank, not to indulge in the practice of taunting or maligning others."

I wish everyone could read those words.

I have always been a fan of Judith Martin for many reasons and those words and suggestion is just one of those reasons.


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