It's school field-trip season. Every spring thousands of school kids pour into my place of business, tear around the building, and hopefully learn something about aquatic science.
I work at a public aquarium, and mostly in an exhibit where I can hear everything the public says. From my experiences with the thousands of kids that I see every day I'm starting to lose faith in how we, as adults, are raising our children. As the years have gone by kids are getting less and less respectful of people in general. And it's mainly American kids.
Hundreds of kids come by my exhibit every morning during my hour-long cleaning spree. The French Canadian kids patiently look through the mesh to see what's in there with me. I speak French so I can hear them guessing, pointing out animals they see and ask each other interesting questions. The Europeans also spend a lot of time looking, asking me intelligent questions, etc. You get the point.
The American kids - and this is a generalization, it's not true for ALL American kids, just a lot of them - come up to the mesh, say "hey! what's in here!" or "dude, there's nothing in here" and move on. No "excuse me", nothing. One time when I had my back to the mesh a high school boy said to his pack of friends "hey look, it's the ass exhibit!" and they laughed and ran off before I could find out what school they were from to complain to their head chaperone.
Rarely do I get an "excuse me" before a question, or a "thank you" after I answer. For a while I was ignoring kids until they said "excuse me" until a mom got really mad at me for ignoring her child. I wanted to say "well, if you taught your kid some manners then I'd answer his question, but letting him get away with 'hey you! what's in here!' does not warrant my acknowledging him." I'd probably get fired for that though.
But sometimes I do get respect. And it's the best thing in the world. This past Sunday morning I had an amazing experience, which prompted me to share this with you all. A small boy, about seven, came up to the mesh and poked his head above the water line of the tank to get a closer look. Then he said, "excuse me, do the birds eat the fish?" I looked up to see his genuinely curious little face. "Sometimes," I replied, "the tern can catch them if she wants to but she's usually too lazy so she eats the worms I put out". "Cool!" he said, asked a few more questions and ended with a big thank you. When he walked off I looked around for his parents, suddenly realizing in a panic they weren't nearby, but they were. They were hanging out in the shadows letting him talk to me on his own. And they didn't even have to prompt him to say his pleases and thank you. If I could have walked through that mesh to hug them I would have.
As I'm currently listening to my seventh-month-old going down for her nap I'm realizing more and more how much we've lost by not teaching our youth basic manners. Even now, at her tiny age, I use please, thank you and excuse me in my daily speech. I want her to know that a simple excuse me and thank you can really make some one's day.
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