Minding Your Manners

Minding Your Manners Picture yourself standing at the pulpit at the front of the Cochran Chapel, faced with the formidable task of addressing a thousand or so Andover students. The bright young people amassed before you are demanding entertainment in exchange for their attention and respect, unwilling to pay any mind to someone who does not immediately kindle their interests. Struggling through your speech against a tide of indiscriminate chatter and yawning, you get the distinct impression that Andover students are cynical, impatient, and rude. This assumption is simply not true, but looking at our collective behavior in All-School Meeting, a visitor could easily arrive at that conclusion. Many students roll their eyes at Head of School Barbara Chase’s constant reminders to respect our ASM speakers. Her frustration is justified; in spite of all our intellect, we students have forgotten our manners. We all learned the simple etiquette in question during our kindergarten years: do not talk when someone else is talking. It is easy to understand how All-School Meetings seem to trigger acute Attention Deficit Disorder in students. As a student body, we are tremendously well informed, and speeches intended to be informative and enlightening can seem remedial to many of us. Almost invariably students summarize an uninteresting ASM with words along the lines of “The speaker had a good point, but it was just so boring!” Imagine what one of your teachers would say if you offered that line as a reason for your talking through a lecture. Whether someone is addressing ten or ten thousand people, he or she at least deserves respect, if not undivided attention. Disinterest in a speaker’s topic or disagreement with their point of view is no excuse for rudeness. No one can reasonably expect every student to pay complete attention for the entirety of ASM, but it is perfectly reasonable to expect us to be silent, awake, and unoccupied with schoolwork for one hour out of every week. No Blue Book passage dictates proper All-School Meeting manners. But the Golden Rule can give us an appropriate guideline: do unto others as you would have them do to you. None of us would want to be standing at that podium being blatantly ignored by the audience. While the content of All-School Meeting can vary from scintillating to sleep-inducing, students can make a powerful statement about their maturity and politeness by making respect a constant. Not every All-School will change your life, nor even your opinion. But we should give our speakers and their messages a chance by closing our books and mouths and opening our eyes, ears, and minds.