Polite children & suffering in the name of politeness


Since we aren't too far removed from the holiday gauntlets, it seems likely that more than a few of us have suffered through something for the sake of politeness. The search for "the politest little girl" or boy was an annual competition held by the Junior Inspectors Club of New York City's Department of Sanitation. In 1940, the competition's panel of judges (aged 10-15) awarded the honor to 9 year-old G. William Kennell, who demonstrated a thorough command of his craft:

Suppose you were downtown and you didn't have any money to get home, how would you approach the policeman?—"I'd say, 'Please, Mr. Cop, will you lend me a nickel? I promise to return it.' " If you went to your friend's home and you wanted a drink of water, how would you ask to go to the kitchen?—"I'd say, 'If you don't mind will you let me go to the sink to get some water?' " If you happened to knock a person's hat off by a snowball, what would you do? —"If it were a grown person, I'd pick it up. If it were a child, I'd just say, 'I'm sorry.'

I've been trying to track Mr. Kennell down, so if anyone has a lead...! I suppose I was a polite enough child, but mostly out of fear of human contact.

I had an early aversion to loud voices or acrimonious public behavior. Disagreements caused me to break out in hives, and when other people's mothers offered to take a friend and me to the beach with a cooler full of soda and peanut butter sandwiches, I had no other choice but to put aside my mortal antipathy to nut products and concentrate on getting rid of the sandwich (I ended up feigning interest in digging a shallow grave in the sand & then tossing the innocent thing in).

Even at seven, I would rather die than be embarrassed--or be an accessory to another's embarrassment. I guess that's politeness. Too bad this particular contest was before my time.

So, whether you were a polite child or not (were you?), what have you suffered for the sake of politeness?