Former farm girl and fashion model, a mother of three with a Masters degree in law and government, award-winning singer and entertainer, unofficial evangelist, a cross between Hannah Montana (her idea) and Mary Poppins (ours) — Judi Vankevich, The Manners Lady, is a dynamo. Her energy and enthusiasm burst through her emails in a thousand exclamation marks! Her CV would make Hilary Clinton’s sound tame.

Founder and President of The Manners Club and Life Skills, International, the gal who “makes manners fun!” Judi is on a mission to create a more civilised and enjoyable world. We can only tell you a fraction here of what The Manners Lady had to say to us, but the following interview should whet the appetite…

MercatorNet: Your full-time job at the moment is promoting good manners to children across Canada, the United States and even beyond. Is that because good manners are on the verge of extinction? Are we facing the ultimate triumph of boorishness?

Judi Vankevich: In many cases manners were thrown out in the 1960’s and 70’s along with respect for authority and other norms in society. Now we have a generation of parents raising kids who were never taught manners themselves. I receive hundreds of calls and emails from men and women asking for help. They sincerely are asking for help with the most basic of manners.

As a Canadian I think we have a worldwide reputation for having good manners. But I’m convinced that it wasn’t this generation that earned that reputation. It was our grandparents. I want to help Canadians re-earn that reputation and pass it on to the next generation. We are helping Canada celebrate National Manners Month every October, and now we’re helping cities and nations around the world do the same – with creative ideas and Respect Pledges for schools, athletic teams, businesses and families to use as a tool to teach manners and respect.

We need to be intentional about teaching character. Don Page, Professor of Leadership Studies at Trinity Western University has noted: “For far too long we have focused our attention on the results of the aberrant behaviour that flows from a lack of respect and civility in our society. It is time for us to get at the root causes of these behaviours and that is precisely what The Manners Club does. This could be the beginning of a much needed national societal values rejuvenation based on positive character attributes.”

What are the key messages you want to get across to children?

The exciting friendships and doors that open for you when you choose to live with gratitude and good manners. We are excited to be launching a new “Campaign for Kindness” in communities around the world, and introducing the Kindness Keys that will open up amazing relationships with your family, friends and new friends in the community: the Good Attitude Key, the Good Words Key and the Good Actions Key.

Kids love how much more fun their home becomes when they have good manners. Parents are thrilled everything works more smoothly because a home is just WAY more fun when people are grateful and helpful.

What are the underlying ethical ideas or philosophy?

The principle of otherness: putting other people first in what has become a “me-first” generation; making other people feel valued and special; living by the Golden Rule and with an Attitude of Gratitude. Every song on my CD teaches a different, universal principle that kids need to know for success in life and in relationships.

My Masters degree is in law and government, and what we’re teaching kids and teens is “self government” and self control. Our system of government was designed for a citizenry that is self governing. In a free society, we must have self control, or we will need to be controlled externally—by the police. That’s not freedom.

Tell us about your methods and the rationale behind them.

It’s FUN! Aristotle said, “That which is learned with laughter is never forgotten.” Kids love to laugh… sing… have fun with their friends and family. They dance to my songs, they role play. Also kids are very relational, especially teens. At our camps / seminars they are always sad when it’s over since they’ve become so close to each other.

That’s why we have music and clubs. Children love to be part of a club. And they love to sing! At The Manners Club they play games that make learning fun; kids and parents love to learn together. The Manners Club Pledge is a summary of all that we learn in the club. Kids all over the world can join and sing the music. They just commit to doing their best to live the pledge and download their membership card. We are currently training Manners Club Coaches to teach the Manners Club program to children in their schools, churches and neighbourhoods.

How important is music?

Extremely important! Children of all ages love music. Scientific research has proven the effectiveness of music in helping people learn and remember. It helps children to integrate their minds and bodies, and the outer world of sounds with the inner ones of feelings. Music also directly encourages good habits such as recognising structure, following rules and taking turns. It enhances self-esteem and confidence and helps children to socialise.

Our music CD with numbers such as The Golden Rule Rap, Five Fabulous Phrases and the Bad Manners Monsters Song (the latter due out in picture book form) is extremely popular. Through The Manners Club and its music, we hope that children and students will have fun learning and living with manners and character as together we build stronger families and make the world a nicer place to live in.

Hanna Montana or Mary Poppins (a la the movie) — or both? How would you style your presentations?

Entertainment with a transformational purpose! The energy and enthusiasm of Hannah Montana, the wisdom and joy of Mary Poppins.

Are you succeeding in your mission? How do you know?

Lives are being changed. Principals of schools are saying that they can see the change in the climate of the school after the Manners Lady has done her concerts / seminars. Kids are greeting each other or saying hi to the teachers in the hall. Fewer kids are being sent to the principal’s office. There are fewer problems in the playground. There is more time to do “fun stuff” and less time being wasted with bullying or fighting. Principals say that my show/concert gives the school a “common language” for the teachers, parents and students.

At every bullying conference where I speak, people come up and say, “You are the only one doing something practical!—teaching kids manners—how to treat each other!”  we don’t need millions of dollars to fight bullying.  We just need to be intentional in teaching our youngest children how to behave.  And we need to teach boys how to treat girls—as a prevention strategy for violence against women.

If you asked them, nearly all parents would say they wanted their children to have good manners. What mistakes are parents making that there are so many kids with whiney, thoughtless, ungrateful habits? Do you work separately with parents and teachers?

Parents need to model good manners then be intentional in living them. Parents need to be “the parent” and stop trying to be their child’s best friend. Kids need mom to be mom. They want limits and standards.

Many parents have abdicated their responsibility to raise their kids and just assumed the school would raise them… or their local church… or the TV or internet. How foolish. It’s not fair to our children not to equip them with the attitudes, words and actions that are VITAL for their success in life, jobs and in relationships and as citizens. Our mission is to train a powerful army of Manners Club Coaches (moms, dads, teens, teachers, coaches) to inspire and equip the world!

How important is it to start young on teaching good manners? Is a rude, self-absorbed 15-year-old beyond redemption?

No! There’s hope. And it’s exciting to see how teenagers are empowered with a new confidence when they learn basic manners and life skills. But it’s WAY easier and more fun to start when your kids are babies. Even babies can be taught gratitude, to say “thankyou” with sign language. They can be taught not to whine and complain, to wait rather than demand instant gratification.

What in your own experience prepared you for this project?

I had a great mom who truly cared about people. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. My dad was the local grocer and in him I saw the power of great customer service and a smile — and remembering people’s names.

Also, as a fashion model in Paris and working in the film industry in L.A., I saw first-hand the power of a smile and kindness.  Everyone responds to a friendly smile or the power of gratitude.  And it was always a hobby growing up to learn to say “hi” in as many languages as possible.  People from other cultures are delighted when you greet them in their first language.  Good manners open amazing doors.

What do you still hope to accomplish?

Currently we are planning for a kids’ TV show, “The Manners Club Kids” — a Mickey-Mouse Club meets ZOOM TV experience.

My vision is to help create a groundswell movement of kindness around the world focusing on character, courtesy, good manners and civility. The power of The Five Fabulous Phrases (Please, Thank you, You’re Welcome, Excuse Me & I’m Sorry–Will you forgive me?”) is such, I believe, that if everyone used them… we could change the world.

Judi Vankevich is founder and president of The Manners Club and Life Skills, International and the non-profit International Project for Manners and Civility. Watch Judi’s Manners Lady Concerts  online or enjoy the music.  She is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she lives with and her husband, writer and director, Dr. Ned Vankevich and their three children.

Judi Vankevich is founder and president of The Manners Club and Life Skills, International and the non-profit International Project for Manners and Civility. Watch Judi’s Manners Lady Concerts...