Written By William McNeil
To many Cape Fear residents, and Americans in general, the notion of manners seems old-fashioned and stuffy, but I think the majority of Cape Fear natives appreciate the civilized niceties of good manners.
Having manners is a way of showing respect to others, and making them feel appreciated and comfortable. Manners are made up of little civilities that make life bearable. The manners I know, and discuss below, are the simple, gracious courtesies of rural and small town life in the Cape Fear region.
Acknowledging Strangers on the Street with a Nod or Hello
A ritual quite common in the Cape Fear area is to nod the head or greet a stranger on the street with a friendly “Hey” or “Hello.” When we initiate eye contact and nod our head to say hello, we are acknowledging and respecting the presence of another human being. More importantly, eye contact and a friendly “Hey,” communicates inclusion in the community.
Saying Goodbye to Guests
I recall when good country people visited my family home in the fifties and sixties. The whole family followed the guests, not just to the door, but all the way to the car. The guests would say how much they enjoyed their visit, while my mother and father responded with a crescendo of compliments and exhortations to return. We’d all stand and wave to our guests as they backed their car out of the drive. To not have observed this goodbye ritual in its entirety would have been considered impolite.
Now, the polite custom is to walk the guests to the door, hold it open for them, and express farewells between the open door or just outside it. This is how I say goodbye to my guests, but I stand and wait till they are ensconced in their car before shutting the door.
The concept of fellowship, a beautiful concept of friendly association, is slowly diminishing. I learned the concept of fellowship when I attended a rural Methodist church in Bladen County. Methodists (meek and mild) are known for their church suppers, and I loved going to these weekly suppers because everyone was always nice and mannerly.
As a teenager, I never missed a meeting of our Methodist Youth Fellowship where everyone was made to feel welcome and appreciated. For various reasons, I no longer attend church services, but I miss the fellowship. Whether you find fellowship within a group club, school, church, or sport affiliation, it’s important to find a warm sense of community.
A rejection of the obligations of citizenship is becoming more apparent. With this rejection comes a vulgarization of manners, popular culture, arts, and language. A weakening sense of the responsibilities of citizenship, also leads to a lack of appreciation of our natural environment. When citizens no longer feel a sense of responsibility to the community at large, they tend to not take pride in the appearance of their property, as evidenced by the litter you see strewn along our roadsides, and the blighting of many residential and commercial properties in the once clean, uncluttered landscapes of our countryside.
Encouraging Good Manners
I sometimes ask myself if manners have become uncool, and I wonder what we can do to encourage good manners. Is it not the parents’ responsibility to teach by modelling good manners? If not the parents, then who will educate the young in the good manners of showing consideration to our world?
I certainly am not presenting myself as a paragon of good manners, for I too have lapses. Perhaps we should all endeavor to follow Kahlil Gibran’s dictum on good manners: “The real test of good manners is to be able to put up with bad manners pleasantly.”
Do we, my fellow natives of the Cape Fear, pass the test?