He said that nobody is born civilized.
This came back to me the other day when I had to tell my 5-year-old to say "please" for the gazillionth time. We've been working on "please", "thank you" and "excuse me" for... a long time now it seems.
The kid will say, "Give me..." sometimes in the most demanding tone. What we do is the classic, "What's the magic word?" or just "What?" (Repeat until desired result.)
We constantly have to make him say "thank you" to friends and strangers (such as wait-persons) when they give him something and "excuse me" when he brushes past people. We've been doing this since he became verbal - and though we're making progress we really wonder when it'll become habit.
And of course, as parents of a boy we have to deal with hitting issues too. As in, we don't hit just because we're mad at someone. The other day he came in with a split lip after hitting his best friend - who hit back. We took the opportunity to explain - again, that that's what happens when you hit. I suspect it'll sink in eventually, that lesson was worth a lot of sermonizing.
It seems like rearing every child recapitulates the invention of civilization - if you succeed. Children have to be taught that the world does not revolve around them and that other people should be treated as if they mattered, which is the essence of manners.
I think that a lot of parents these days feel that the times we live in often make this difficult. People espousing trendy child-rearing fads seem to think that they can reinvent human nature, and have the right to experiment on our kids. The "self-esteem" movement, and perhaps the trend towards the one-child family, seem to have produced a lot of self-absorbed narcissists lately.
Sometimes (often actually) it's maddening and frustrating, but we have to keep at it. If we don't, we'll be raising rotten kids. And if enough of us don't, we'll be passing on a civilization rotten at the core and ripe to fall.
In the long run, we'll have our reward when we see what kind of young men and women we've raised. In the short run, we sometimes get thanks from people, like the cashier who thanked me for making my son say "thank you" when she handed him his sno-cone.
But it worried me when she told me it was very rare in her experience for parents to do that.