As reporters followed William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, across their recent trip to Canada and into California, I admit I was captivated. I enjoyed looking at the photos and reading of what they said. Kate is so lovely, William so chivalrous. While I couldn’t care less about the names of fashion designers, I do appreciate the striking wardrobe—and speech and manners. In a word, Will and Kate are refined. They know who they are and who and what they represent, and that knowledge guides them in their careful choices and presentation of themselves.
In a speech delivered at BYU, President Harold B. Lee related the following story. “One of our Latter-day Saint men during World War II was over in England. He had gone to an officer’s club where they were holding a riotous kind of celebration. He noticed off to the side a young British officer who didn’t seem to be enjoying himself at all. So he walked over to him and said, ‘You don’t seem to be enjoying this kind of a party.’ And this young British officer straightened himself a few inches taller than he was before and replied, ‘No, sir, I can’t engage in this kind of a party, because, you see, I belong to the royal household of England.’
“As our Latter-day Saint boy walked away he said to himself, ‘Neither can I, because I belong to the royal household of the kingdom of God.’”
Do you know who you are? Do your children? Who and what does your family represent?
Most important is your representation as a son or daughter of God and a member of His church. You’ve taken His name upon you. For better or worse, what you say and do, and even what you look like, has an impact on the impression others have of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Each of us also represents other people and organizations as well, from the companies we work for to the friends we associate with. There are times I talk to my children about our family name. I’ve expressed that there are certain behaviors and attitudes that a Takis should never engage in. Our name means something.
In his same speech, President Lee shared something from a young woman’s talk that he thought meaningful: “She was out with her father in the country where they lived, helping him with the chores. They made their living milking cows. At four o’clock in the morning, as they began their work, the father said to her, ‘My girl, you are the product of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and you are also the product of a Latter-day Saint home. If you fail, your church and your home have failed also.’ And then the girl added, ‘That was impressed upon my mind, that I had a responsibility to the church to which I belonged and the home from which I had come.’”
One representation we all have in common is that of the worldwide group of homeschoolers. Probably all of us know someone who has based their entire opinion of homeschooling on their observations of just one family, good or bad. So, whenever I set things up in the community and/or attend events in the public eye, I make extra, extra effort to ensure that my communication, actions, and appearance are impeccable—as well as that of my children and any others we may invite to accompany us—because everyone knows we are homeschoolers and the impressions we make will reflect on every other homeschooler. I want to be certain that all who meet my family have a positive view of what homeschooling—and LDS homeschooling at that—looks like.
Just as important as any education in mathematics and language is an education in manners and behavior. I’m not advocating Victorian rigidity or that which encourages snobbishness and class separation, but a training in courtesy and character; genteel discipline in communication with others as well as respectful habits in conduct that reflect an awareness of one’s duties toward others and a sense of representation. Philosopher Samuel Smiles once said, “It is a common saying that manners make the man. There is another saying that mind makes the man. But truer than either, the third, the home makes the man, for the home training includes not only manners and mind but character as well. It is mainly in the home that the heart is touched, habits are formed, the intellect is awakened, and character is molded.”
Wikipedia has this to say about manners: In sociology, manners are the unenforced standards of conduct which demonstrate that a person is proper, polite, and refined. They are like laws in that they codify or set a standard for human behavior, but they are unlike laws in that there is no formal system for punishing transgressions, the main informal "punishment" being social disapproval. They are a kind of norm. What is considered "mannerly" is highly susceptible to change with time, geographical location, social stratum, occasion, and other factors. That manners matter is evidenced by the fact that large books have been written on the subject, advice columns frequently deal with questions of mannerly behavior, and that schools have existed for the sole purpose of teaching manners.
Further, as the Doctrine and Covenants tells us what to study (see D&C 88:77-79), I believe that inherent in the social studies command, “and a knowledge of countries and of kingdoms,” are directions to study customs and conduct. As verse 80 explains and Elder John A. Widstoe expounded on in the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manuel, “These studies, the Lord considers necessary. . . He expects [us] to know enough of these things to be able to magnify [our] callings as His ambassadors to the world.”
Sadly, society’s standards for protocol are slipping. I don’t think looking to today’s “norm” in speech, etiquette, and dress as a compass is safe. But there are still some good examples to follow, and we can always look back to better times and people to guide us.
Now you may be thinking to yourself that training your children in good manners is an obvious must, but you wonder what on earth dress has to do with it. Let me share with you some powerful statements by Latter-day prophets.
President Harold B. Lee said, “. . . do not underestimate the important symbolic and actual effect of appearance. Persons who are well groomed and modestly dressed invite the companionship of the Spirit of our Father in heaven and are able to exercise a wholesome influence upon those around them. Persons who are unkempt and careless about their appearance, or adopt the visual symbols of those who often oppose our ideals, expose themselves and persons around them to influences that are degrading and dissonant.”
In a chapter titled “Be Smart” in his book, Way to Be! President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote , “It is not only in getting an education that you need to be smart. Be smart in your appearance and in your manners. I am not suggesting that you need to go about dressed like a fashion model. I am suggesting that you be clean and neat in your appearance, that you be gentle in your speech, that you be courteous and respectful in your manner. So many people in our society today are sloppy in the way they look and in the way they behave. Sloppy dress signals sloppy ways and sloppy thinking.
“As a boy, our parents insisted that we dress neatly for school. No untidy appearance was tolerated. The boys wore a shirt and tie and short trousers. We wore long black stockings that reached from the foot to above the knees. They were made of cotton and wore out quickly, so they had to be darned frequently. Even we boys learned how to darn because it was unthinkable to go to school with a hole in our stockings.
“I realize those days are long gone. But they taught us something. We learned a lesson on the importance of being tidy and clean, a lesson that has blessed my life ever since. Because if we are neat and tidy in small ways, those habits carry over into larger areas of concern that have much greater and more long-lasting impact. Just as sloppy dress signals sloppy ways and sloppy thinking, a neat and well-groomed appearance indicates competence and dependability.” (See pages 30-31)
I was talking with a ward member the other day about how much my boys love baseball. She made an interesting comment which has set me thinking. She remarked, “Well, it’s been bred into them. They’ve been groomed for it.” I’ll save the discussion of being raised with baseball for another day. But I don’t want to ever disregard the question of what my children are being “bred” or “groomed” for. I want to always be aware of what they’re being taught and for what purpose. Whether it’s “Please” and “Thank you,” punctuality, “Excuse me,” respect for places and property, or combing their hair and not wearing pajamas to the library, manners matter.
President Lee mused, “I am reminded of the old court jester who was supposed to entertain his king with interesting stories and antics. He looked at the king who was lolling on this throne, a drunken, filthy rascal, doffed his cap and bells, and said with a mock gesture of obeisance, ‘O king, be loyal to the royal within you.’ And so I say to you . . . remember your heritage, and be loyal to that royal lineage that you have as members of the church and kingdom of God on the earth.”
Do we know who we are? Do we represent well? Elder L. Tom Perry indicates how we can tell: “Surely there would be an obvious difference between one who is attempting to conduct his life as though he were a citizen of the kingdom of God, and one who is conducting his life by the standards made by man. When a person determines to live a higher law, there should be a visible difference, a marked change in his appearance, his actions, the way he treats others, and the way he serves his fellowmen and his God.” (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, p. 199) Let us cultivate and polish ourselves, that we may each be admirable ambassadors of ourselves, our families, those we associate with, and most importantly, the kingdom of God.
“Be Loyal to the Royal Within You,” devotional address given by Harold B. Lee at Brigham Young University, 11 September, 1973. http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6060
Hinckley, Gordon B. Way to Be! New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002
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