When most people first hear “Manners of the Heart”, they automatically think “please, thank you, and which fork to use”. Though table manners and common courtesies have a special place in our hearts, Manners of the Heart goes much deeper than “yes ma’am”, “no sir” and setting the table. Manners of the Heart is really fulfilling the mission of founder, Jill Rigby Garner’s, mother, Evelyn McDonald.
My mother grew up with tree stumps as chairs and a metal tub in the backyard for bathing. Her mother was a hardworking woman who worked on an assembly line in a Natchez, Mississippi box factory. Grandmother did the best she could to feed four daughters and keep a roof over their heads during the difficult years of the early 1900s. As a young girl, my mother walked past the expansive antebellum homes overlooking the Mississippi river in Natchez, Mississippi and dreamt of one day living in “a house with white columns.” She imagined raising a daughter of her own who would become a lady like the ladies she passed on the Natchez sidewalks.
Fast forward several decades…
When I was growing up, Mother was most concerned with teaching us how to be good people. She believed that if she taught us how to live well, we would figure out how to make a good living. Mother checked our conduct marks long before looking at our academic grades.
She insisted we say “Have a nice day” whenever we left someone’s presence. She taught us to put the needs of others ahead of our wants. She taught us to live by the Golden Rule, treating others the way we wanted to be treated. After all, it’s not what you have, it’s who you are.
When my twin sons came along, my heart was touched by concern from other parents and teachers about the lack of respect among the students in my sons’ elementary school. Educating the mind to the neglect of the heart creates children who fail in school and life. In other words, if we don’t work on the attitudes behind the behavior, the behavior will change the attitudes.
In searching for the solution, I discovered the answer that schools are desperately searching for today in the most ironic place. The solution was in the same roots of those tree stump chairs my mother grew up on. There needed to be a school program that educated the hearts of children, that helped them see beyond themselves and their circumstances to become all they are meant to be. And there was the birthplace of Manners of the Heart.
I created an elementary heart education curriculum that was set in Merryville, a town between the mountains and the sea and home to the only happle tree in the world. Merryville is a community where people smile and greet each other when passing, where everyone respects each other; it’s the kind of town everyone wants to live in. It is the kind of place people will uproot their entire lives for just to become a part of that kind of community. Merryville represents the way life could be. Manners of the Heart is here to help us how to make our communities “Merryville”.
By equipping schools, encouraging families, and engaging communities, Manners of the Heart strives to bring a revival of respect and civility to today’s society, to bring a little piece of Merryville to every city in America.