Tag: relationships

Raising children on the principle of love

Raising children on the principle of love

My husband and I are Christians, meaning we are followers of Christ Jesus and strive to live according to His teachings. We both grew up in Christian households that shared similar foundational principles and, as a result, our beliefs have shaped our worldview, guide our thought processes, and influence our actions on a daily basis.

Before getting married — and long before children entered the picture — my husband and I talked about our overarching ideas and plans for raising any future children we might be blessed with. But, as when many things, parenting styles, goals, and philosophies tend to be more abstract until a little one is actually present.

Then it becomes real.

Since becoming parents to our son, we have had numerous discussions on how to parent. Not just the when and how to discipline conversations, though it is very important for both parents and any additional caregivers (like grandparents) are all on board with the decided methods of discipline. No, we began talking about the far-reaching results — some might even say consequences — of certain parenting styles, attitudes, behaviors, etc. Then we compared our childhoods and our parents’ parenting styles with all of the positives and negatives we could recall.

Every time we had one of these deep, self-evaluating discussions, we found ourselves circling back around to very simple but crucial questions:

  • How do we want to raise our children?
    • What kind of childhood and home environment do we want to provide for them?
    • What character traits do we want to nurture in our children?
    • What kind of people do we want them to grow up to become?
  • What parenting methods would achieve these goals?

In continuing my exploration into the idea of a heavenly home, I will attempt to share some of our answers to the above questions.

First and foremost, the type of childhood we desire for our children is one of joy, love, laughter, and learning in a home environment that is warm and nurturing.

To achieve that goal, we decided that we want to raise our children on the foundation of love. Deep, self-sacrificing, understanding, patient, resilient, courageous, unconditional love as modeled by Christ Jesus.

Out from this foundation of love grows other important character traits, such as respect for oneself and respect for others. We want our children to grow up with an understanding that, in spite of their flaws and mistakes, they are precious, valued, and loved for who they are as uniquely individual human beings.

Their worth and self-esteem is not based on what they do, how well they do it, how much they succeed or achieve, nor based on the opinions of others. That does not mean we will not have expectations for them, but we want to give them realistic expectations that encourage them to be the best version of themselves that they can be.

By extension, we want to instill in them a respect for others as precious individuals. We want to demonstrate this love and respect every day in our interactions with each other, with our children, and with those outside our family.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8, ESV

We want to raise our children with the knowledge that God is love. We believe in a loving Creator who originally created this world perfect and intended for humanity to live perfect lives in peaceful harmony with Him, each other, and the nature around them. Because He is love, He did not create us as robots pre-programmed with a specific set of directives that must be followed.

He gave humanity the freedom of choice: free will. Because of free will, we each have the freedom to choose whether to love God and obey Him or not.

It is our hope that our children will come love God as we have but not out of fear or obligation or tradition. We desire for them to have an intelligent faith of their own and love God as a personal response to His love for them.

 “We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19, ESV
From this love, they will choose to follow His example and apply His teachings in practical ways in their daily lives. All of the teachings of the Bible can be summarized in these two principles:

“And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” Matthew 22:36-40, ESV

Next time I will share some of the specific character traits and values we hope to instill in our children.

Join the discussion

What are the principles that guide your parenting style and philosophy? What type of childhood are you aiming to give to your children?

Our children are watching: a response to hate

Our children are watching: a response to hate

Personal note from Jacquelyn: I have written and re-written this post a dozen times over the last few days. It is time to share it. I know this post is imperfect and, in spite of my humble efforts, cannot hope to grasp the entirety of the situation. Many books can and have been written on this topic! However, this is the coherent part of what has been weighing on my heart and mind over the last few days. (I have been a bit sleep deprived due to a teething baby.) My only hope is that it provides comfort and encouragement to those who need it and prick the hearts of others to take time to seriously re-evaluate their opinions and beliefs.

A response to hate

The violent and tragic acts of hate groups in recent days have deeply sadden me. It has taken me time to be able to put my thoughts into words. First, let me start by saying that my heart goes out to the family and friends of Heather Heyer, who was murdered by a man filled with hate and evil, and all of those who were injured in the same attack. Heather gave her life standing up for what she believed in: that all people are equal and should be treated with respect. I also pray for the family and friends of Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M. M. Bates of the Virginia State Police killed in a helicopter crash while responding to the situation. They gave their lives while serving and protecting their community, fulfilling their duty and serving with honor.

Let me be very clear: anyone who embraces ideology steeped in hatred, intolerance, and violence is NOT patriotic. White supremacists, KKK, Neo-Nazis… these people are pathetic COWARDS, filled with hate and fear — fear that they displace on others. Their contemptible words and vile actions reveal to the world that they have embraced evil.

We need to stand firm against hatred, fear, and intolerance. We need to stand for justice, equality, and freedom. However, remember that the world, the country, and our children are watching. We need to resist the temptation to return hatred for hatred, violence for violence, fear for fear. If we behave as they do and commit our own acts of violence against them, we become no better than the very groups we condemn.

We need to rise above knee-jerk, anger-filled reactions. The emotional response of anger itself is not necessarily wrong, but anger needs to be controlled or it will control us. We need to take the high road. Hard though it will be, we need to show compassion for hatred, peace instead of violence, love and unity in response to fear and division. Let us put aside arrogance and superiority, and start to esteem others as equals. Let us win with our words and actions, through our voices and our votes. Let how we respond lift up those who are downtrodden, encourage the discouraged, seek true justice, and show mercy towards the poor and vulnerable.

Our children are watching.

You CANNOT be a Christian (a proclaimed follower of Christ Jesus) and harbor hatred for others, especially whole groups of people based on arbitrary or imagined differences (skin color, ethnicity, religion, etc.). Let me repeat myself: you cannot be a Christian and a racist.

The Bible is very clear: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8, NKJV)

Christ Jesus Himself said: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27, NKJV)

And He also admonished His followers: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:43-45, NKJV)

Our children are watching.

The Declaration of Independence, though written by flawed men, states a truth that is vital to be reminded of, especial at times like these: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

And I would like to add that among these unalienable Rights endowed by the Creator is the right of ALL people, especially those who have historically been marginalized and greatly mistreated, to respect and being treated as a valued human being. Native American, African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, Arab-American, certain minorities among European-American have all experienced turmoil in our country’s history (including recently), though some groups (such as the Native Americans and African-Americans) have born more atrocities, persecution, degradation, and disenfranchisement than others. Sadly, to this day many communities still struggle with the aftermath of bias government policies and social prejudices.

We need to admit that our country is not perfect and has made many mistakes… Some downright and absolutely horrible, such as the removal of native people from their lands, the enslavement of Africans, the internment of American citizens of Japanese heritage, and more. We need to stand firm on the side of Truth and Justice for ALL and move forward together to fix what is broken in our country.

Hatred and violence is learned. So is peace and compassion. Let me repeat: We need to resist the temptation to return hatred for hatred, violence for violence, fear for fear. How about we try leaving the world — or even just our small piece of it — a better place?

Our children are watching. What are our words and actions teaching them?

Our children are watching. What are our responses and reactions to times of great upheaval saying about our hearts and our characters?

Our children are watching. What legacy are we leaving for them?

Our children are watching.

Being present in the moment

Being present in the moment

About six months ago, I was working extra hours on a few freelance jobs with the intent of building some income outside of my regular 9-5 job. The ultimate goal would be to eventually transition into working from home so I could spend more time with our son.

After two months of working 8 to 8.5 hours at my regular job and then 2-4 hours at night after the baby went to sleep, I realized that I was wearing myself out. I was not sleeping enough, I was fighting the worst allergies I have ever experienced, I kept getting sick, and despite my husband’s valiant efforts to keep things tidy, our house had quickly fallen into disarray.

However, I pushed through because I really want to be able to stay home with my son.

Then within the span of a week, I observed my mom and mother-in-law interacting with my baby, and I realized that they were present in the moment. I was so sleep deprived that even when I was with my son, I was not there mentally. He may have had half of my attention — changing him, feeding, him, encouraging him to grab a toy or flip through a cloth book — but I was not fully there.

A part of my mind was always focused on other things. “I need to check my email.” “Once he falls asleep, I have to do x, y, and z before going to bed.” “Ugh, the dishes have piled up again.”

One afternoon when my parents dropped my son off after watching him for the day, I quietly watched my mom feed him a bottle and then my dad play with him. I almost burst into tears. In trying to pursue my goal of one day being able to stay home, I was missing the beautiful moments with my son now.

I had to change.

So I declined the next freelance job that came my way.

I put away the laptop. I did not just shut it or turned it off, I put it completely out of sight. I removed the email and Facebook apps from my phone, and began to leave my phone in my purse or on the charger in a different room of the house.

With these changes, I was able to go to sleep earlier so in the mornings, I could shower before our son woke up, greet him with smiles and songs while he was still happy, nurse him and pump, and carry him with me around the house as I got ready for work instead of putting him in a walker or the play pen.

In the evenings, I had the energy to make dinner and clean up the kitchen while my husband played with our son, did laundry or vacuumed. Bedtime was much easier, because I was no longer eagerly waiting for the baby to fall asleep so I can do other things. I wanted to spend that quality time nursing him, rocking him, cuddling with him. After he was tucked into his crib, my husband and I would relax together instead of me being occupied with work on the laptop.

Our house was not only cleaner and tidier, but it was happier and filled with sunshine, music, and laughter.

Six months later, I do not regret this decision one bit.

Do I still long for the day when I can stay home with my son? Absolutely!

As much as we appreciate our parents for helping us watch our son for six months while both my husband and I worked, we still desired to have at least one of us at home. We determined that it is not financially feasible at this time for me to be the one to stay home. My income is what we rely on for rent, bills, every day living expenses, and health insurance.

So at the end of May my husband resigned his job with a local school district to stay home with our son. Being a stay-at-home parent is not an easy job. There are great days when the child is happy and you get a ton accomplished. And then there are terrible days where the house is a disaster and pretty much the only thing that happens is cuddling with a teething child.

Bradley has taken to being a stay-at-home dad, and every day he continues to amaze me. I am so grateful to be blessed with such a wonderful husband. Even after a long day of watching our son, he still cheerfully takes care of our son, me, and even the dog when I am feeling too sick to make dinner or too exhausted to wash the dishes.

Sometimes circumstances happen that do not allow us to live out our ideal dream, but instead of being disappointed, we should be thankful for the blessings we have.

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
— Philippians 4:11, NKJV

Life is more than just a checklist of accomplishments. It is about relationships, and it is about spending time with those that mean the most to us. It means treasuring precious yet fleeting once-in-a-lifetime moments. It means letting go of those things out of our control and stop worrying about the future. Give your worries and burdens over to the Lord (1 Peter 5:7) and decide to be present in the here and now.

I have, and I love it!

3 Ways to Make Facebook More Enjoyable and Secure

3 Ways to Make Facebook More Enjoyable and Secure

Facebook. Founded in 2004, this revolutionary social networking site had 955 million monthly and 552 million daily active users at the end of June 2012. This site allows you to connect or re-connect with family and friends separated by distance, make new friends, swap information, share hobbies (photos, music, sites, etc.), and even play games. For many, Facebook is the first site they log into in the morning and the last site they log out of at night. Yet it is not always fun and games.

Due to the nature of the social networking site, misunderstandings and arguments have arisen from status events, sometimes even relationships have been broken, and even jobs have been lost. Facebook, like most modern media, is a double-edged sword: it can be used for good or could be misused and cause great harm. If you use Facebook or have considered jumping on the bandwagon, what can you do to keep from being sucked into the black hole?

Today I will be sharing three things you can do to make your Facebook experience more enjoyable and more secure.

Privacy

The first and most important thing to consider is the privacy settings of your Facebook account. The default privacy is Public, which means everyone and anyone with an Internet connection has access to everything you post, share, like, or comment on. If you don’t want your actions broadcasted to everyone, you need to change your account’s privacy settings to Friends.

Facebook Privacy Settings

How To Do It: When logged into your Facebook account, you will see a little upside triangle on the top right of the page (to the right of the ‘Home’ link). Click this upside triangle and select ‘Settings’ from the drop-down options.

On the General Settings page that loads, select “Privacy” from the left sidebar to go to the Privacy Settings and Tools page.

Facebook Privacy Settings and Tools page

Edit the first option, “Who can see my stuff?”, and choose your privacy settings. You can change it to Friends. If you want to have a default setting even more restrictive, you can select More Options and a dialogue box will appear. You can select the lists or individual friends you want to use as a default.

Facebook: Change who can see your posts.

Note: This default privacy setting will apply to status updates and photos you post to your timeline from a Facebook app that does not have the inline audience selector, like Facebook for Blackberry or iPhone. When you post via a computer, you can manually choose the privacy setting for that specific status update or photo from the inline audience selector, as seen in the image below.

Facebook Inline Audience Selector

Facebook setting options There are also other privacy settings that you should look at and decide upon. Under Privacy, you can decide who can contact you, who can look you up, and whether your profile is searched by outside search engines (like Google).

Timeline and Tagging controls who can post on your Timeline (previously called Wall), who can see what others have posted to your Timeline, who can tag you in photos and posts, who can see photos and posts you have been tagged in, etc.

Blocking is a bit self-explanatory but important. You can block people and apps from accessing your Facebook, block receiving messages or event invites and more.

Notifications allows you to decide what method (if any) you would like to use to be notified of Facebook activity.

Remember, the stricter your privacy settings, the more secure your Facebook account and personal information will be. This will not only keep you safe from phishing and malicious apps, but also help make your Facebook experience more pleasant overall.

Accepting and Rejecting Friend Requests

The next most important task has to do with sending, accepting, and rejecting Friend requests. Let me be very clear: You have absolutely NO obligation to accept every single Friend request that you receive.

To avoid needless drama, stress, and other unpleasantness, you need to be cautious who you accept as a Friend and you who reject. Just because you attended high school together x-number of years ago does not mean that you must let that individual into your life via Facebook today. Participating in social networking, like Facebook, can leave you vulnerable to malicious acts if you are not careful with whom you share your personal information and details about your daily life.

There are many individuals who pose as potential friends yet whose sole purpose is to steal your personal information, such as usernames, passwords, phone numbers, birthdays, etc. This is known as Phishing, and can result in your identity being stolen or worse.

Facebook Friend Request

I highly encourage you to establish a personal policy regarding what type of requests you accept and reject. For example, my personal policy is to accept Friend requests from individuals: 1.) family members, 2.) I know personally in real life, 3.) I have known for at least five years online through a safe community and we have become very close friends, and/or 4.) share similar views and I get along with.

I have received and rejected countless friend requests from strangers, I have known in the past (such as from high school or my early college years) and even people I know right now. Think carefully before accepting a request: Is this individual someone you know? Someone you can trust? Would you consider them a genuine friend? Do you share similar interests or views on the important topics?

Facebook Friend Request Denied

There is no prize for having an extraordinary number of friends. If you do not choose your Facebook friends carefully, you will suffer from frustration, stress, and unnecessary drama. Facebook should be a pleasant experience, not torture. Just as you would not allow a random stranger to walk freely into your home and start making a meal in your kitchen or be privy to intimate conversations between you and your closest family and friends, you need to be smart about who you allow into your virtual “home”, aka your Facebook account.

Use Lists

Facebook has a very handing feature called Lists. Basically, you can use the default lists (Family, Close Friends, etc.) or create custom lists that you can then group your friends into. Lists not only help you later one when you want to choose who among your friends you want to share specific status updates or photos with (through the inline audience selector), but it is also a faster and easier way of getting rid of unwanted junk from your ticker/News Feed. You can choose the update types you want to receive or not receive from each list, turn email or Facebook notifications on or off, and other important control settings.

Facebook Lists

How To Do it: When logged into your Facebook account, there is a column to the left and within that column is an area titled “Friends”. It should show a default number of lists: Close Friends, Family, etc. Hover on “Friends” and a “More” link appears to the right. Click it to be taken to the list page. Here you see all of the default Facebook lists and have the option of creating your own custom lists.

Facebook Lists

To edit a list, click the list’s name. You will be taken to a News Feed for that particular list. At the top right, there are two gray buttons: “Notifications” and “Manage List”. Since I check Facebook regularly, I turn my notifications “off” so as to avoid cluttering up my email and Facebook messaging. Under “Manage List”, select “Choose Update Types…” and a drop-down will appear. (If it does not appear automatically, click “Manage List” one more time for it to appear.) Check or uncheck the options you want. I highly recommend unchecking “Games” and “Comments and Likes”. Repeat with the other lists.

Facebook Lists

Underneath these two gray buttons, you will see an area called “On This List (#)”. This shows you how many of your friends are on this particular list and will show the profile image of a few of them. Beneath the profile images is a box where you can add friends to the list. If you want to remove a friend from a particular list, click the gray button “Manage List” and select the first option “Edit List”. A dialogue box appears that displays all of the friends on the list. When you hover on a profile image, a white X appears in the top right corner. Clicking the X will remove that friend from that particular list.

In Conclusion

Facebook can be a wonderful tool to keep in contact with your family and friends or an instrument of hurt and misery, depending upon how you use it. If you customize your Privacy Settings, choose carefully who you accept as Facebook friends, and make use of the lists feature, you will avoid needless drama, stress, and keep your personal information more secure.

Raising Successfully Selfish Kids

Raising Successfully Selfish Kids

While driving home from work Friday, October 23, 2015, I tuned in to a radio talk show hoping to catch a local weather update. Instead, I had the opportunity to listen to two rather annoying gentlemen talk about a new study that shows that children who talk back to their parents tend to be more successful as adults. After ten minutes of listening to them go back and forth and the examples that callers shared of their own children, I had an epiphany.

The world’s definition of successful means an individual who is self-centered and manipulative, always looking out for what is in their best interest at the expense of others.

It is true that an individual who pushes back against authority, manipulates others, and always seeks out that which would benefit him or herself will most likely find success in their professional careers.

However, is this the type of person we want to raise our children to become? Someone who has no compassion or empathy for others? Someone who is always looking out for Number 1? Is this selfishness and lack of cooperative spirit truly a characteristic of a good leader? And even if these traits might bring more success in a professional capacity, how much harm are they doing to the individual’s personal relationships and emotional health?

The Bible warns:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5, English Standard Version

This list of negative characteristics includes many attributes that the modern world would deem as essential for a successful person, but those who desire something better are encouraged to “avoid such people”.

Philippians 2:3-4 tells us: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Notice that the Bible is not saying that we need to be doormats, just that followers of Christ should be concerned with others. As parents, we should be striving to raise our children with godly characters, molded from the traits listed in the Fruit of the Spirit passage.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Galatians 5:22-26, NKJV

The world would be a better place if more children were being raised to be kind, gentle, patient, content, and with the ability to exercise self-control. Contrary to how society may think, I believe that true success is not measured in what an individual has material-wise but the relationships he or she has built along the journey of his or her life.

The world needs love

The world needs love

I am praying that all those who have experienced tragedy from the recent violence around the world may find comfort. There is no fear in love. “There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18

What is love? “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Let go of hatred and prejudice and embrace genuine love and compassion for one another as brothers and sisters. The world needs love. Not the feel good sensationalism in songs but the every day acts of compassionate love that makes a true difference. Not hashtags and catchy slogans, not pictures to evoke emotions, but a conscious decision by millions of ordinary people that we won’t let fear and hatred control our lives. That we can make a difference right where we live today, everyday, with our words and actions. And this love will grow as more and more people experience genuine love through compassionate acts until it spreads around the whole world.

I want my life to be a beacon of God’s love, love of the highest ideal and purity, shining out in a world of darkness and sorrow, spreading hope. This is my humble prayer.

Adapted from a series of tweets I posted on November 16, 2015.

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Harsh, mean-spirited, and judgmental.

More and more often, I am hearing saddening accounts of brothers and sisters within our church families who have been attacked by fellow church members for having different experiences, different opinions, different likes and dislikes. Attacked by individuals displaying the works of the flesh and not the fruit of the Spirit. Individuals who have exalted themselves so highly in their own mind that they actually feel that they are entitled to cast judgment upon their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ… Continuing reading at UNashamed →

 

What Your Body Language Says About You

What Your Body Language Says About You

In the previous Manners: A Lost Art article, we touched on The Basics of Good Manners. Today we are going to briefly discuss the nuances of body language. Yes, you read correctly: body language. Some may be surprised how important body language is to good manners.

Before we begin, it is important to mention that different cultures have different ideas and concepts surrounding appropriate body language. I will be approaching the subject from a North American, particularly an American, point-of-view. If you are residing outside of the United States, I highly recommend that you learn what body language is deemed appropriate for the culture that you are living in.

Eye Contact

In North American culture, eye contact is a significant aspect of body language and what a person does with his or her eyes can tell a lot about his or her attitude and mindset. Unless the situation is confrontational, steady eye contact is a sign of respect, attention, interest, and self-confidence. It is acceptable for adults and children of both sexes to make eye contact with other people.

Business woman speaking with two people.
Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To show respect and interest during an introduction, conversation, lecture, or professional meeting, you should keep your eyes on the speaker for the majority of the time he or she is speaking. If you are having a one-on-one conversation, it is recommended to look at the person speaking for 5 or so seconds at a time. It is not necessary to make direct eye contact—which many people are uncomfortable with and, depending on the situation, is a common flirting method—focus instead on the triangle made by the nose and mouth.

Do not confuse steady eye contact with staring, glaring, or ogling. A rule of thumb to ensure you are making the right type of eye contact is to mimic the facial expressions of the speaker, such as showing concern, smiling, etc., and nod or shift your head from time to time. Feel free to blink and even look away momentarily, such as when taking notes during a lecture. Blinking too fast, however, is often taken as nervousness or discomfort.

We should be aware of the message that our eyes send to those around us. Eyes can show interest or disinterest, respect or disrespect, happiness or anger, enjoyment or irritation. When I was growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it became very popular among the kids and teenagers to roll their eyes whenever they were irritated or not interested in what the other person (usually a parent, teacher, or authority figure) was saying. This type of gesture is rude and should be avoided. In the United States, avoiding eye contact is often interpreted as timidness, weakness, or disrespect.

When traveling outside of North America, be sure to investigate the meaning of eye contact in whatever culture(s) you will be visiting. In some places, such as Europe, eye contact may imply romantic interest and making eye contact with the wrong person might land you into an uncomfortable situation. In many Asian cultures, avoiding eye contact with a superior or the opposite sex is considered a sign of respect; therefore, making eye contact with a superior or someone of the opposite sex is disrespectful, rude, or arrogant.

Posture

You may be thinking: “What does posture have to do with manners?” Very simple: good posture not only is important to your physical wellbeing but will also improve your self-confidence, which in turn effects how you interact with others and how others perceive you.

When standing, remember to keep your back straight, shoulders back, and stomach in. (For those unsure how to keep your “stomach in”, keep your abdominal muscles tightened. Be careful, though, you do not want have to have your muscles so tight that you cannot move naturally or breathe.) If you are not used to this proper posture, it may feel uncomfortable or unnatural at first. However, as you continually remind yourself to stand up straight, shoulders pulled back, and stomach tight, you will find it will become natural and you will feel better physically and emotionally.

When sitting, do not slouch your shoulders or slump over but keep your torso straight. Ladies, though we are often taught it is lady-like to cross our legs, always be mindful of your attire. If you are wearing pants, then you may cross the legs at the knees. This is also appropriate for men, though the majority of men these days choose to rest an ankle on their opposite knee instead. Ladies, if you are wearing a skirt or dress, keep your legs and knees together so you do not inadvertently flash those around you; if keeping your legs together is uncomfortable, you may opt for crossing your feet at the ankles and tucking your feet a little under the chair or to one side.

Posture goes even farther than simply proper standing or sitting positions. Posture is a non-verbal indicator of your current attitude. When you are interested, you may lean forward towards the speaker. If you are uncomfortable, you may lean backwards away from whatever or whomever is causing the discomfort and cross your arms. Keeping hands in pockets often comes across as a casual, comfortable behavior but could also be misinterpreted by others as a sign of timidness or discomfort. Depending upon the situation, you may decide to having only one hand in your pocket and use the other hand to do simple gestures while you speak.

Arms can be awkward. If you are not prone to gesturing, you may wonder what you should do with your arms and hands, especially in one-on-one conversations. Letting both of your arms hang at your sides may or may not be comfortable for some people so you could try tucking one arm loosely behind your back (your wrist would lay right either in the small of your back or over your bottom). There are many more options for when you are seated. Practice various arm and hand positions and determine which is the most comfortable for you while still presenting a professional image.

Keeping Still

One aspect of good manners is the ability to keep still, which basically means not fidgeting. This includes bouncing a foot or rocking while seated; playing with hair, chair, or other object; continually touching one’s face or itchy/scratching; blowing bubbles with your gum or chewing very loudly; biting or picking at fingernails; etc. These types of fidgeting imply restlessness, nervousness, discomfort, or indifference and should be avoided in public and/or formal settings.

I should mention an exception to this guideline: sometimes fidgeting is an unconscious symptom of a larger condition. I had an acquaintance that was in a terrible car accident, it was truly a miracle she even survived, but her right arm would occasionally spasm. She had no control of it, and while some might find it distracting, it is good manners to overlook instances where such a thing is uncontrollable. However, if you are perfectly capable of keeping still and fidget simply out of habit, you should be aware that such behavior is often interpreted by those around you as rude and the result of poor self-discipline and low self-respect.

Personal space

Two young men talking.
Image: Andy Newson / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Perhaps one of the most important, yet often overlooked, aspect of good manners is the issue of personal space. In the United States, personal space is tremendously important and violating someone’s personal space, even accidentally, can create negative impressions towards you. Most people are comfortable with two to three feet of space between them and another person, especially someone holding a conversation with them. You may notice, when someone begins to encroach upon another’s personal space, the victim may lean backwards to create more space, cross their arms over their chest to form a visual barrier, or actually take a step backwards. When opposite genders are involved, violating personal space could be misinterpreted as unwanted sexual attention or even sexual harassment, even more so if the perpetrator touches the victim without permission.

Touching is a very delicate issue. When meeting someone for the first time, a handshake should be the only form of touching. Through multiple face-to-face meetings, an acquaintanceship is formed and you begin to discover what types of physical interaction is welcomed or not by the other individual. Some individuals open up to new people very quickly and are more lenient towards physical (non-sexual) contact such as clapping someone on the shoulder, friendly hug, etc. Other individuals are more guarded and find physical contact very personal, only to be done among very good friends and family. The only way to know what degree of contact is appropriate is to build a relationship with that person and over time, you will learn. When in doubt, keep your hands to yourself and stand at least two feet away from the other person.

On a more humorous note, keeping a distance of two to three feet allow those individuals who are prone to wild gesticulation space so not to accidentally hit those he or she is speaking to. Receiving an unintended whack to the nose by someone’s hand is not an altogether pleasant experience, even if you end up laughing about it later on.

And that, my friends, is a brief run down on body language. Again, please remember that the meanings and appropriate behaviors addressed in this article are specifically for the North American culture and applicable especially to the United States. If you are residing elsewhere, it is important to look into the appropriate behaviors and meanings of body language within your culture. If you take away nothing else from this article, ask yourself this simple question: What does my body language say about me?