When sitting at the table with my three-year-old granddaughter I asked her to please pass me the
“Thank you,” I said when she did.
“You’re welcome,” she replied.
I found it delightful and, by the end of afternoon tea, I had everything on the table passed to me just to hear her say “You’re welcome”, every time I thanked her.
The response, “You’re welcome”, is not the usual New Zealand reply; more American or Canadian. I
think it a more gracious or meaningful response when someone thanks you than the usual Kiwi
reply of “that’s okay”.
But why am I talking about a tea party with a three-year-old when there are so many important issues in the world? War, racial hatred, fracking, the worldwide refugee problem or the Pope’s recent encyclical?
Pope Francis spoke about love, care and ethics on a global and individual scale. So why am I
not looking at the bigger picture? Because I believe the bigger picture can be improved by millions of smaller pictures.
Like table manners. Table manners are important because they are taught at the family meal table. It is there that family members gather to share food andtheir daily life experiences as they talk and listen to one another. It’s not just another meal, but time we learn care and respect of others.
Not taking more than your share, thanking the person who cooked the meal, playing your part in
the preparation, setting the table or the cleaning up afterwards. The rituals or ethical behaviour of where we put our elbows or use fork or fingers, spoons or chopsticks are developed in each culture to make the eating experience better for everyone there.
We first learn how to love, share and behave towards others by our early family or community.
It begins in what was once called “the domestic church”. We can see how successful family caring
and values have been absorbed by our response to others whose homes have been damaged by floods
or earthquakes. The “boat people” or “refugees” become not a statistic, inconvenience or threat to our way of life, but families — mothers and fathers with children — fleeing from war, danger or starvation, leaving behind the homes they loved and the places and people they knew. Those overcrowded boats are not their choice but their last chance.
People who work on farms or cultivate market gardens are well aware of the wonders of nature, but for many city dwellers, especially with the increase of apartment living in high-rise buildings, food and flowers come from the supermarket.
The increase of school gardens is one answer to no home garden or “easy care” backyard of plant and forget succulents, grasses and paving stones.
The year-long silverbeet and rhubarb plants, the summer runner beans and tomatoes that were part
of quarter acre section living may be phasing out in the cities, but you can still see pot plants on many apartment balconies.
We learn about loving our Earth by planting seeds or bulbs, feeding, watering and seeing them grow.
Our love of nature grows with walks in the bush, flying kites from a hill, watching the night sky, or the progress of a caterpillar changing into a butterfly, or planting 150 daffodil and tulip bulbs in your grandmother’s garden to honour God and lift the spirits of her neighbours.
Small scale maybe, but caring, ethical and sacred.


  1. A well overdue comment. Good manners, simple courtesy, are essential to Catholic living, but they are so often missing.
    An example is the behaviour of Sunday Mass-goers.
    A simple instance is the use of the kneelers (where they remain in our churches) for walking on, standing on or resting shod feet on.
    Simple courtesy, which is an act of respect for others, requires us to keep our feet off the kneelers. But when do you see that ? Rarely.
    What’s worse, I’ve personally been subjected to verbal abuse on more than one occasion when I’ve asked fellow congregants to use the kneelers for kneeling only.
    Catholic behaviour ?