Last week, I spent a morning with staff from two nurseries talking about pedagogy. Kindness and what it means was central to the discussion on social and emotional well-being. It’s quite the topic of the month with the Duchess of Cambridge saying it was more important to be kind and compassionate than to excel at sport or Maths. Blimey, I bet that made a few politicians choke! Mrs May talks about creating an inclusive society and the British Values requirements were introduced, albeit in a clumsy method, to provoke a conversation about democracy, rule of law, tolerance and mutual respect. They might have been better understood if we had used the words of kindness, compassion and courtesy which I believe are the underpinning behaviours.
In a city as crowded as London, we need to dig deep into our ability to be kind and courteous. Call me old fashioned but in a very mixed city we need some common rules to make life easy and reduce the dirty looks and kissing of teeth.
So confused are people as to what are the common rules of courtesy in this modern world, that 10,000 have written to Debrett’s for guidance on social manners. Questions like :
- Should I kiss a client on the first meeting?
- Should I give up my seat on the tube?
- Can I begin to eat before everyone else has been served?
- Why must I remember to put my knife and fork together at the end of the meal?
As early years’ teachers, we need to practice kindness and courtesy so that the children imitate our behaviour. Unless we teach them they may never understand that it is polite to wait for all of our friends to be served lunch so we can all start eating together, or that putting your knives and forks together is the sign you are finished so waiters can remove your plate without any inconvenience or confusion.
Much inconsiderate behaviour is often not a deliberate provocation but thoughtlessness and ignorance and not understanding the subtlety of the societal rules. We all have our particular bugbears. For example, which of these really make you spit fire (in no particular order)
- Answering the phone when purchasing an item at the check outs (is the checkout person invisible?)
- Walking slowly on a busy thoroughfare looking at your phone (yes it may be the map but walk on the inside, don’t wander about all over the pavement!)
- Applying make-up on the train (do I pay a train fare to be in someone’s bathroom?)
- Smelly food and confined areas such as the train carriage
- Dogs on the train seats
- Barging in front of you in the queue
- Dropping litter (especially when the bin is right next to you)
- Just standing on a discarded free paper and not picking it up and sticking it on the carriage rack
Of course, we all have wonderful positive examples of good manners and joyful moments. I have had many incidents of people spontaneously being kind and courteous, last week a young woman must have seen my tired face and offered me her train seat, I enjoy regular chats at the checkout of my local Sainsbury’s, have had helpful customers suggest how I cook fish, add nutmeg to liven up spinach lasagne and explain whether to use crème fraiche or cream.
Last week, one of our nursery managers was getting on a crowded tube at Green Park when she spotted one of the nursery children squeeze on further down the carriage with his Dad. Next thing she heard the TfL conductor announce “Good Morning Oscar”. Later, his father explained that as daily commuters to nursery since he was six months old, the staff have gotten to know him and look out for him and welcome him over the the speaker system when they see him. How lovely we thought. Our manager was so touched by that, she said it gave her a warm feeling all day.
Courtesy, compassion and kindness are interwoven and can be taught and replicated. If you are in doubt about what to do and you can’t find your nearest Debrett’s, just step into their shoes and be nice. Manners and common courtesy are 99% common sense and 1% kindness. People with good manners treat people with respect and remember that no one, no matter how busy, powerful or self- important is above that.
“May you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold;
May you never make your bed out in the cold.
You’re just like a good close sister to me,
And you know that I love you true”