Innumerable people complain daily about the loss of civility and good manners among contemporary Americans, particularly the young. For some reason, very little effort is expended to change the situation, as if it were a matter beyond man’s control–such as the weather. Judi Johnston Vankevich, otherwise known as “The Manners Lady,” thinks otherwise.
“Judi’s vision is to influence the next generation in civility, self-government and self-control by teaching important life principles and good manners in a fun way,” says her website. “As Zig Ziglar says, ‘The Manners Lady has come along at the right time! Her CD needs to be in every home in America.'”
“My vision was I knew I wanted to make a difference in society,” said Vankevich in a recent interview. “At first I thought it would be through politics.” She obtained a Masters degree from Regent University. “I went to Regent to get a biblical worldview of law and government,” she said.
A former model, Vankevich began teaching. “I was teaching girls about inner and outer beauty,” she said. “I was told to teach younger girls about character.” Out of that, she said, grew what has come to be her mission. “We started the Manners Club for kids,” she said. “We wrote songs about good and bad manners. We raised $40,000 to make a professional-quality CD.”
Vankevich takes an upbeat approach to persuading children that good manners will benefit them and can be fun. She promotes ten simple rules for good behavior that go beyond saying “please” and “thank you” to include “to honor and obey my parents at all times”, “to respect my elders and those in authority,” and “I will treat others the way I would like them to treat me.”
Vankevich works to replace the sullen, downcast faces of so many children with a different technique of meeting people. “Look directly into the person’s eyes,” says her five rules of introduction. “Smile & be friendly. Shake hands firmly with your right hand–not like a dead fish. Say ‘Hi! It’s nice to meet you’ or ‘Hi! My name is ________.’ Enjoy good conversation!”
“I want the children to look at their parents, not me,” she said. The decline of good manners is just one aspect of a much larger societal problem, she said. “In one generation, they’ve thrown out respect for authority,” she explained. “On every TV show, the kids are smarter than the parents. If there’s a priest or a minister, he’s probably corrupt or a child abuser.”
Vankevich also instructs adults in good behavior while she travels the country. “She teaches seminars on Professional Image and Business Etiquette for corporations, and is a popular speaker for conferences, parent-teacher groups, universities, high schools, community groups and churches,” says her website.
“With any group, children or adults, I start with three things,” said Vankevich. “The Golden Rule, respect, and living with a thankful heart.” The “art of inclusion” can be especially important for children, she said, particularly girls. “Girls can be so mean, the way we roll our eyes and cluck our tongues,” she said. It’s not hard, she said, to say, “Would you like to have lunch with me?”
As Plato, Aristotle, and so many others have noted, music educates the soul, and Vankevich has her own songs about manners. “A medieval general said, ‘You can write the laws. If I write the music, I will rule the world,'” she said. “Five schools this year have performed my music.” The songs include “Good Manners! (The Theme Song),” “The Golden Rule Rap,” “The Five Fabulous Phrases,” “Bad Manners Monsters,” “Yes Ma’am! Yes Sir!,” and “Prince Knife and Princess Spoon (To Set the Table!).”
The Manners Lady does not shy away from teaching the mannerly aspect of chivalry, though it may be politically incorrect today to recognize any differences between the sexes. “Boys love it. Girls love it,” she said. “And to this day, 99.8% of women love it when a gentleman opens the door for them. I teach boys to go first into a dark movie theater, to pull out the chair for mom.”
Now living in Canada with her husband, who is a filmmaker, Vankevich has a “Manners Kit” complete with CD and will soon finish a book. “I would love the people in the conservative movement to know I’m one of them,” she said. “I want to bring hope to parents.”