Value of the week – Politeness

“Politeness is an inexpensive way of making friends.”  William Feather

As a child, I spent a lot of time with my paternal grandmother (see photo) who lived with the family. I recall special moments, such as sitting by her open coal fire, as she cooked delicious toast, using an ancient toasting fork. These were very special formative times during my childhood.  Gran was born in 1880 and was steeped in Victorian good manners, which she believed were so important in cultivating good character.  She explained to me that it was impolite to continually talk about myself.  She said that I must show respect for others by really listening to them. Although others have said it since, it was Gran who taught me that people may not remember what I said but they would remember how I made them feel. 

Gran and me.

Gran’s early education of me had her desired effect because when I left secondary school, Mr Blacksell, the Headteacher quoted Shakespeare on my report writing, ‘Well I am schooled, good manners be your speed’.

Politeness means being aware of and respecting the feelings of others. However, is politeness really a value?  Philosophers have argued about its legitimacy as a value, some arguing that politeness is really about following rules without any moral judgement.  An extreme example of this, were the members of Hitler’s SS who were often seen as being very polite but were capable of the most atrocious acts of inhumanity.

My own view is that politeness is the beginning stage of morality. As young children we learn from our families what behaviour is socially appropriate and what isn’t. Being polite and respectful, serves as the foundation on which other values can be built. Politeness oils the wheels of relationships, boosting self-esteem and confidence. If we are to nourish civil, ethical and courteous behaviour, which become the bedrock of our character, then we have to take politeness to greater depths of understanding.  Where can this process take place? 

Values-based families and schools give children opportunities to explore and live values, such as respect, honesty, trust and compassion, which give substance to politeness and general good manners. You can find more information about values education by visiting