The value of courtesy is too little appreciated. Many who are kind at heart lack kindliness of manner. Many who command respect by their sincerity and uprightness are sadly deficient in geniality. This lack mars their own happiness and detracts from their service to others. Many of life's sweetest and most helpful experiences are, often for mere want of thought, sacrificed by the uncourteous.
Cheerfulness and courtesy should especially be cultivated by parents and teachers. All may possess a cheerful countenance, a gentle voice, a courteous manner, and these are elements of power. Children are attracted by a cheerful, sunny demeanour. Show them kindness and courtesy, and they will manifest the same spirit toward you and toward one another.
True courtesy is not learned by the mere practice of rules of etiquette. Propriety of deportment is at all times to be observed; wherever principle is not compromised, consideration of others will lead to compliance with accepted customs; but true courtesy requires no sacrifice of principle to conventionality. It ignores caste. It teaches self-respect, respect for the dignity of man as man, a regard for every member of the great human brotherhood.
There is danger of placing too high a value upon mere manner and form, and devoting too much time to education in these lines. The life is strenuous effort demanded of every youth, the hard, often uncongenial work required even for life's ordinary duties, and much more for lightening the world's heavy burden of ignorance and wretchedness--these give little place for conventionalities.
Many who lay great stress upon etiquette show little respect for anything, however excellent, that fails of meeting their artificial standard. This is false education. It fosters critical pride and narrow exclusiveness.
The essence of true politeness is consideration for others. The essential, enduring education is that which broadens the sympathies and encourages universal kindliness. That so-called culture which does not make a youth deferential toward his parents, appreciative of their excellences, forbearing toward their defects, and helpful to their necessities; which does not make him considerate and tender, generous and helpful toward the young, the old, and the unfortunate, and courteous toward all, is a failure.
Real refinement of thought and manner is better learned in the school of the divine Teacher than by any observance of set rules. His love pervading the heart gives to the character those refining touches that fashion it in the semblance of His own. This education imparts a heaven-born dignity and sense of propriety. It gives a sweetness of disposition and a gentleness of manner that can never be equalled by the superficial polish of fashionable society.
The Bible enjoins courtesy, and it presents many illustrations of the unselfish spirit, the gentle grace, the winsome temper, that characterise true politeness. These are but reflections of the character of Christ. All the real tenderness and courtesy in the world, even among those who do not acknowledge His name, is from Him. And He desires these characteristics to be perfectly reflected in His children. It is His purpose that in us men shall behold His beauty.
The most valuable treatise on etiquette ever penned is the precious instruction given by the Saviour, with the utterance of the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul-- words that should be ineffaceably written in the memory of every human being, young or old:
"As I have loved you, that ye also love one another." John 13:34.
"Love suffereth long, and is kind;
Love envieth not;
Love vaunteth not itself,
Is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly,
Seeketh not its own, Is not provoked,
Taketh not account of evil;
Rejoiceth not in unrighteousness,
But rejoiceth with the truth;
Beareth all things,
Believeth all things,
Hopeth all things,
Endureth all things.
Love never faileth."
1 Corinthians 13:4-8, R.V.
Another precious grace that should be carefully cherished is reverence. True reverence for God is inspired by a sense of His infinite greatness and a realisation of His presence. With this sense of the Unseen the heart of every child should be deeply impressed. The hour and place of prayer and the services of public worship the child should be taught to regard as sacred because God is there. And as reverence is manifested in attitude and demeanour, the feeling that inspires it will be deepened.
Well would it be for young and old to study and ponder and often repeat those words of Holy Writ that show how the place marked by God's special presence should be regarded.
"Put off thy shoes from off thy feet," He commanded Moses at the burning bush; "for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." Exodus 3:5.
Jacob, after beholding the vision of the angels, exclaimed, "The Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. . . . This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." Genesis 28:16,17.
"The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him." Habakkuk 2:20.
"The Lord is a great God,
And a great King above all gods. . . .
O come, let us worship and bow down:
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker."
"It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise:
Be thankful unto Him, and bless His name."
Psalms 95:3-6; 100:3, 4.
Reverence should be shown also for the name of God. Never should that name be spoken lightly or thoughtlessly. Even in prayer its frequent or needless repetition should be avoided. "Holy and reverend is His name." Psalm 111:9. Angels, as they speak it, veil their faces. With what reverence should we, who are fallen and sinful, take it upon your lips!
We should reverence God's word. For the printed volume we should show respect, never putting it to common uses, or handling it carelessly. And never should Scripture be quoted in a jest, or paraphrased to point a witty saying. "Every word of God is pure;" "as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." Proverbs 30:5; Psalm 12:6.
Above all, let children be taught that true reverence is shown by obedience. God has commanded nothing that is unessential, and there is no other way of manifesting reverence so pleasing to Him as obedience to that which He has spoken.
Reverence should be shown for God's representatives --for ministers, teachers, and parents who are called to speak and act in His stead. In the respect shown to them He is honoured.
And God has especially enjoined tender respect toward the aged. He says, "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness." Proverbs 16:31. It tells of battles fought, and victories gained; of burdens borne, and temptations resisted. It tells of weary feet nearing their rest, of places soon to be vacant. Help the children to think of this, and they will smooth the path of the aged by their courtesy and respect, and will bring grace and beauty into their young lives as they heed the command to "rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man." Leviticus 19:32.
Fathers and mothers and teachers need to appreciate more fully the responsibility and honour that God has place upon them, in making them, to the child, the representatives of Himself. The character revealed in the contact of daily life will interpret to the child, for good or evil, those words of God:
"Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him." Psalm 103:13. "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." Isaiah 66:13.
Happy the child in whom such words as these awaken love and gratitude and trust; the child to whom the tenderness and justice and long-suffering of father and mother and teacher interpret the love and justice and long-suffering of God; the child who by trust and submission and reverence toward his earthly protectors learns to trust and obey and reverence his God. He who imparts to child or pupil such a gift has endowed him with a treasure more precious than the wealth of all the ages--a treasure as enduring as eternity.