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No One Ever Went Wrong By Being Polite

At a recent whole school assembly, we discussed the importance of manners and how vital these were to not just a boarding school community, but to wider society too. The title for this piece came from prominent United States educationist, Hal Urban, who focussed much of his teaching on the importance of instilling manners as a way of developing pupils with good character.  In this way, Urban maintained that good character and quality of life were inextricably linked. 

Rather than merely being spoken to, it was important for the boys to actually engage with the assembly by contributing their own thoughts. We spent a few minutes discussing some well-known quotes on the act of being polite. It was wonderful to hear the responses of the boys themselves and, in my opinion, allowed the boys to interact with a subject in which they already had a good deal of knowledge. 

‘Manners are more important than laws,’ as framed by Edmund Burke, was one particular quote that really got the boys thinking. Perhaps the pick of the pupil responses on their thoughts on this quote was from a junior boy who said that laws are manners. We soon posited, via a rather simple example of breaking into someone’s house, that the act boiled down to being lacking in basic manners; devoid of both respect for others, and lacking in personal integrity. The term ‘integrity’ had already been introduced via a short video at the start of the assembly and allowed the Cothill boys to appreciate the need to highly value their own actions, words and deeds.

As the assembly progressed, the boys were exposed to more quotes on manners and had the chance to share how they thought this could be applied to Cothill. We spoke of how the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies were increasingly not just interested in qualifications and backgrounds, but more on prospective employees’ ability to exhibit courteous behaviour and treat others with respect. Katherine Pipin’s quote, ‘The people who really know your character are waiters and clerks,’ really made the boys think about the importance of applying manners evenly and to everyone. It was so heartening to hear the boys agree that when it came to wealth, education, status and background, it all paled into insignificance as compared to the basic human principle of being polite and possessing good manners. 

It was at this point that I challenged the boys to really up their game on three specific manners so that it became an ingrained and happy habit:-

  1. Smile and greet boys, staff and visitors

  2. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ whenever required

  3. Hold doors open and offer to help, wherever possible

Unsung Hero 

We ended the assembly by watching one of the all-time great Youtube videos. The video, titled Unsung Hero and created by Thai Life Insurance, depicts an everyday man who becomes the hero in his community by doing simple acts of kindness and displaying polite and courteous behaviour. Whilst the quality of the video as a teaching tool really does need to be seen to be appreciated, the moral of a ‘normal’ man finding satisfaction and joy in life through manners was fully taken on board by the boys.  

Whilst it might be grandiose to think that one single assembly can have a lasting effect on all the boys at Cothill, I do believe that the message was adopted. As a school, we will continue to focus on manners and instil these into our boys. This will be done not just because it makes our school a better place, but also because it makes the world a better place too. It will not happen overnight, and will need constant reinforcement, but it is ultimately worth persevering towards. After all, ‘manners cost nothing, but mean everything.’

Hugh Freese

Deputy Headmaster, Cothill House 


Tagged  School life  Assembly