Many have noted the general coarsening of our society in recent days. The use of manners, it would seem, is a thing of the past. Too many parents are failing to properly train their children. I try to make it a point to compliment young people when they use good manners, holding a door for others, speaking respectfully, etc. Not everyone thinks that way, however. Tamarion Wilson, a fifth grade student at East Carolina Preparatory School in Tarboro, NC was punished by having to write “ma’am” 200 times after replying “Yes, Ma’am” to his female teacher, who had ordered her students not to call her “sir” or “ma’am.” The student was not intending to disobey the teacher, but he had been so well-trained by his parents that he was accidentally polite. His parents have since moved him to another class (World, September 29, 2018, 13).

Among the instructions Moses gave to Israel was the command, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head [gray haired], and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:32). Solomon likewise says, “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31). “If” has been added here by the translators, suggesting their understanding that not all aged men are found in the way of righteousness. Courtesy demands respect and concern for the aged, whether they by their lives have “earned it” or not. 

The problem for us today is that how we act is too often predicated on how others act. If they are nice and polite, we are nice and polite. But if they are like so many in our society who are neither nice nor polite, we act as if that gives us permission to be neither nice nor polite.

The way of the follower of Jesus is not that way, however. “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 16:31-35).

I hope that young Tamarion Wilson did not learn the wrong lesson from his encounter with his teacher. Even despite her, there is still a need for “Yes Ma’am” and “Yes Sir” in our society.