Rousseau on Politeness

There is a quote by Fred Astaire that has to do with parenting and that also ties into the Emile readings that we’ve had. He said, “The hardest jobs kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.” Now, I personally agree with this statement. Having good manners means that you treat others as well as yourself with respect. There are many things in the world today that are constantly in childrens’ lives that affect their manners. It could be a television show that they saw their parents watching, or it could be one of their friends that always gets their way, or it could be a video game that has disrespectful characters. Children learn from these things/people that are constantly in their life.

In Emile, Rousseau distinguishes the rich from the poor, saying that, “The artificial education of the rich never fails to make them politely imperious, by teaching them the words to use so that no one will dare to resist them.” (Pg. 68) Rousseau is rejecting politeness, which is a central part of having manners. He believes that havng a different social status from one person can make you polite but also “fake”, so it is not something that people should teach their children about. He believes that children should be taught on how to “preserve” their life, and that adults should not try to keep preserving them. (pg. 42). Basically, what he believes is that children should be taught how to do things for themselves, and that adults should have a hands-off method in teaching them, letting them explore and do what they want until they reach a consequence.

Now, I don’t agree with Rousseau and his rejection of teaching politeness because I personally think that learning how to be polite, or to be respectful, especially in certain situations, can help people a lot in life. However, he is correct to an extent. Teaching your children how to be polite is not always the most important thing, because politeness can be faked. I do believe that teaching your children how to preserve their life and do things for themselves takes precedence over teaching them how to be polite, but I don’t think that Rousseau should completely write politeness out of the books. What do you guys think? Should we even be polite anymore?

3 responses to “Rousseau on Politeness

  1. Interesting post Jasmine! When I read Rousseau I think I skipped over this part.

    My parents thought it was really important to raise my sister and I with manners and to treat people politely. Politeness is still important to me because it lets the people that I interact with know that I respect them. I think everyone wants to be respected, and when people treat me with respect I tend to be nicer to and think of them more favorably.

    Rousseau’s idea of letting a child wander until they reach a consequence seems a bit neglectful to me. Sometimes a consequence can be too severe to fix, so I think as a mentor it would be better if they could guide their mentee.

  2. Wow, it’s awesome that you picked up on this! I forgot about this section, as well. I agree with you in that I think that politeness and respectfulness are crucial to society, and that some people are polite on the surface merely for reputation’s sake. Therefore, I feel that being polite and respectful are important in maintaining a civilized society; however, I do not think that people should act nicely just to save face. I think that this deception is very unbecoming, as it is doing things for the wrong reason. I think that parents should teach their children manners and the values of caring for others and treating them as they themselves want to be treated, but I do believe that when these adolescents grow up they should not fake their way through life by acting as if they care about people and are considerate of their feelings, when in reality they could care less. I find this duplicity in thought and action to be very wrong, and to be a cause of many of society’s greatest problems.

  3. I think that it is extremely important to teach children how to be polite, and this is a huge flaw in rousseau’s education. As Aristotle said, children are at the age of when they are most malleable, so they will act the way that they see others act. However, in Emile, we do not see Rousseau himself interacting with anyone, and, as a result, this may lead to potential problems in how Emile acts, including how polite he is, in front of others. The only time we see the two in public is at the fair and Rousseau allows Emile to flaunt his knowledge, which is detrimental to Emile’s idea of what is socially acceptable.

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