One of my favorite comments about the high school lunch room was told to me by a high school teacher over two decades ago. Don’t call the school lunch room a dining room. Teenagers don’t dine, they feed.”
Heh. I’ve made the same mildly amusing observation. So then, one of my favorite modern social philosophers John Cuddlebuck writes on the matter today.
Reclaiming Manners at Table
February 1, 2017 By John Cuddeback
“At table let mirth be with thee, let ribaldry be exiled…for at table it becometh not to be sad nor to make others sad. … Nothing should be blirted out at table that might diminish mirth. It is wrong to defame the character of those not present; nor should one’s personal sorrow be unburdened to another on such an occasion. …It is impolite to sit at table rapt in thought.”
Erasmus, On Good Manners for Boys
There is so much at stake in how we eat. Daily.
Table manners are at the heart of every day civility. We are inducted into them almost from our first days. From the start we learn that we are all in this together–having daily needs that we fulfill, always with an eye to the presence and needs of others. At table we are at one with our fellow men–first of all with our own household, but also with any who happen to join us.
In attending to the most pressing of human desires, we are brought through our appetite into relation with others. Yeah, when disciplined, this appetite blossoms into the occasion of communion with others. And so it is with other bodily appetites.
There are so many aspects of good manners at table. Where else are the multiple levels of human life, from lower to higher, from bodily to spiritual, so interwoven?
Erasmus focuses our attention on conversation, on what we say or don’t say. The table is a place to be present to one another, in and through our eating. And if manners are well observed, it is an unparalleled daily context for conversation. As Leon Kass notes, “Without conversation the belly rules the mouth, and the table becomes no different from a trough.”
Here we first learn to listen: others have something to say, to which I must hearken. We also learn that we have something to say, to which others will listen, and we learn how to say it. [Emphasis: mine—W]
It is always about presence. Eating together is the most obvious activity that constitutes who we are as a household, daily. How we do it is the recurring expression and cultivation of our self-understanding, of who we seek to be.
Not just feeding, as a rule we eat together, according to certain forms, gratefully celebrating what it is to be human. [Emphasis: mine—W]
So here’s to the parents and teachers and others who make heroic efforts in instilling and practicing manners. You enhance our mirth, at the table and in all corners of life.
This is the seventh and final piece in the series: Reclaiming Manners.
Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) was one of the great Renaissance humanists. According to Kass his On Good Manners for Boys was an immediate success and was used throughout Europe in the formation of youth.
Image: P.S. Kroyer (1851-1909, Danish)
So put down your water bottle and refrain from the incessant flipping of early adolescence. Actually talk to someone, or at least get the conversation started. “How did your chemistry test go?” “What did you think of that game last night?” “How is your prayer life?” (bonus points for that one).
Conversation is one of the things that separates man from beast! Go be fully alive, and be the person that God made you to be, in communion with the people around you!
Savor the delicate taste of your Treat America hamburger (or, as much as is possible anyway). Did you order the special today? Take a moment and enjoy the complexity of your salami sandwich—or is there any complexity? Does your food choice reflect your attitude to lunch—that it is simply empty calories? Do you bring a meal, or do you pack fuel?