DEAR MISS MANNERS: Please address the need to educate children in basic behavior, such as personal space, personal possessions and speaking on the phone. It seems basic manners has been lost, and children are unaware of their responsibility to be polite. Thank you from a concerned parent, grandparent and great grandparent.
GENTLE READER: You are referring to other people's children, Miss Manners trusts. As a great-grandparent, grandparent and parent, you have put years into rearing generations to have not only basic manners, but underlying respect for the needs and dignity of others.
She feels it necessary to verify this because of the demands that so often accompany parents' outcries against mannerless children:
Why doesn't the school system teach proper behavior?
Why don't movie stars, athletes and rock stars set examples of politeness?
Why does television show people being rude?
And, most frightening of all: Why doesn't Miss Manners hold or recommend etiquette classes for children?
Because all these people have other jobs to do -- yes, even Miss Manners, whose sacred mission it is to spread the noble practice of etiquette -- and are not going to go around rearing other people's children.
Besides, it wouldn't work. Childrearing requires daily devotion over a period of years; it cannot be outsourced and compacted into a course. Truly effective role models, whether of good behavior or bad, are not the children's celebrity-heroes of the moment, but the people with whom they live.
Miss Manners admires and appreciates the many teachers, public figures, entertainers and others trying to provide such guidance for children who have been deprived of this by their parents. She has dedicated herself to spreading the need, understanding and practice of etiquette, but would appreciate more help from those directly responsible. So would their children, according to those who eventually try to catch up and complain to Miss Manners that their parents short-changed them.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We will be invited to a couple's wedding this fall. It will be the second marriage for the bride, who has a son from the previous marriage. They are planning and paying for a large church wedding and reception, yet can not pay all their own bills consistently. A relative of the bride bails them out often from their financial obligations, and they have never repaid their debts to others.
I have expressed my disapproval of such a large and costly event, and am compelled to not attend in protest of the lack of responsibility the two of these people are displaying. Do you believe they are being irresponsible or am I being overly sensitive?
GENTLE READER: "Overly sensitive" is not the term Miss Manners would use to describe people who would boycott a wedding because the couple did not follow their financial advice.
Even she, who counsels against exaggerated weddings on taste grounds, including to those who can afford them, veils her eyes to dissention when she attends the weddings of those she cares about.
But wait -- those "others" who were not paid back by the couple or by the relative who bails them out. Are you one of them?
In that case, Miss Manners can understand your discomfort at being asked to watch the money you are owed being gobbled up by live doves and monogrammed balloons. She only asks you to decline politely without using the wedding invitation as an opening to explain your disapproval.