Manners maketh (hu)man: or, Servetus’ interview question answered

I have a .doc file of questions I’d ask Mr. Armitage if I ever met him or had the chance to interview him. Since I spend a lot of time on education in its various guises (educating myself and others), one of the big questions that’s been on that list practically from the beginning of my Armitagemania has been: “Who were the most important teachers in your life, and can you give us specific examples of what they taught you, and how they got it across?”

Question answered, at least partially, today, in the online Coventry Telegraph, where Mr. Armitage is quoted from a letter he wrote to the family of the woman (in advance of her death) who founded Pattison College and taught him (h/t Richard Armitage Online). Mr. Armitage is quoted as having written: “I think it’s safe to say that it was the most influential time of my life and really laid the foundations for, not only my subsequent career, but also my character” and “At the beginning I was afraid of disappointing Miss Pat. But by the time I left I was concerned about disappointing myself.” On the lessons Mr. Armitage drew from his time at school, look at the Vulpes Libres interview (no link here, as I’ve pingbacked them too many times already).

This is again me choosing to give him a B reading, and what he’s quoted as saying is of course the sort of thing one says when one writes a letter like this one (this is the C reading — genre), but at the same time, no one is forced to write a letter of sympathy these days. One chooses to write, in the first place, because the teacher was important, maybe even decisive. I’ve had teachers like that. Teachers who made me grow, who made me learn what my own expectations of myself were, and internalize them so I didn’t have to be nagged to fulfill them, which is also mentioned in Mr. Armitage’s remarks. And I also like it because I think one of the most important things a teacher has to teach, even at university, is character. Teachers must strive to be true themselves, or insisting that their students search for truth –however defined– is pointless. That has to happen with acknowledgment of difficulties and flaws and so on; students have to learn to see the failings of the teacher as well as the inspiring qualities if they are to grow to teach themselves. Teaching can’t be unsubtle or it’s just indoctrination.

Maybe it’s just politeness (C or D); as we know, Mr. Armitage values it. But politeness can in itself be ethical. And in the end, I just really like this letter because I think Mr. Armitage got it right — both in what he says about the role and influence of a memorable teacher, and in saying something that comforted her family. And I like to be the fan of a kind of guy who does things like this: politeness may not be sincerity, but it has its own important role to play in human interaction. Quoting Pattison College’s homepage: “The school is not academically selective and will accept pupils whom it considers would benefit from a traditional education where discipline, hard work, consideration for others and good manners are an important part of the school ethos.” This is the sort of insight fundamental to the Renaissance: that proper behavior and manners were fundamental not only to human relationships, but to constituting the ideal self.

Finally, I’m grateful that Mr. Armitage had such a good teacher, one he remembers more than two decades after leaving school.”Miss Pat” apparently did us a big favor. Here are some further tributes to her. May her family be comforted by the memories of so many grateful students.

~ by Servetus on September 29, 2010.

21 Responses to “Manners maketh (hu)man: or, Servetus’ interview question answered”

  1. Thanks for posting about “Miss Pat”.I’m sure it meant a great deal to her family to get his letter. I love the polite gentleman side of him. Part of his considerable charm, no question.

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  2. Very nice servetus. I too really liked what Mr. Armitage had written because he took the time to write, was not overly emotional(?) but rather demonstrated class and gentility. As unimportant to him as this statement is, I am proud of him. And I agree with you servetus, “…I like to be the fan of a kind of guy who does things like this…”

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    • There’s an art in writing a condolence letter, and not overwhelming the reader with emotion is an important aspect of it. In general in writing I think it’s better to show rather than tell, and these quotes demonstrate that point quite nicely. He shows how she affected him. And that turns out to be hugely affecting. (Of course, I haven’t seen the whole letter. Maybe he’s a rubbish writer and they just picked the nicest two lines to quote.)

      But yeah. A considerate guy. Not something we see tons of evidence of in today’s celebrity culture.

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  3. Wow – that’s amazing, I hadn’t seen this. Though I am a bit disquieted that the family decided to publish some of the contents of a private letter to them.

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    • I thought about that a little last night before publishing this, but I’m not sure a letter like this is really all that private. The writer expects that it will be shared among the family, certainly, and perhaps among other mourners in a local context (“look, her students have been so lovely. There’s even a letter from Richard Armitage” is what I imagine). So Mr. Armitage must have been aware in writing that what he said could reach a larger audience. Also, one imagines a situation in which a reporter is talking to the bereaved family about the death of a prominent local figure, and family members also feels an emotional need to talk about the significance of their late loved one. Quoting a highly successful student is one way to do that. I don’t think it really reflects badly on them.

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      • I think they are pretty proud of Richard as he seems to be their most famous former student (apart from the guy who was Michael Jackson’s choreographer). After all most students went into musical theatre not into acting.

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        • I was wondering about that myself. It seems like this was not a school that trained people for stardom but for hard work in the trenches of the musical theatre. So I wondered how many “stars of the stage” there would be to quote.

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  4. As a teacher, I am touched by what you wirte about what teaching means, shaping character and imparting good values as well as knowledge. It’s not the sort of career where you often see immediate results, but knnowing/realising that the seeds sown now can ripen and continue to grow in a life-long process of constructing the self brings a deep sense of purpose and gratitude. I rejoice when former pupils and their parents express these semtiments, but it’s just as touching when little ten year olds tell you how much they’re looking forward to the next lesson. Being allowed to be a meaningful part of young people’s lives and opening their eyes to the wonders of language and our world keeps me motivated after many years in the classroom.

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    • I assure you that I do know how to spell, but I admit that I need to practise my typing! 🙂

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    • For “Miss Pat,” there must have been a lot of joy in seeing her students develop their talents, or she’d have hardly kept at it for so long. From what one gathers she continued teaching parttime and keeping tabs on what was going on at her school long after most people have let go of their professional lives.

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  5. Thank you for posting this anecdote. Politeness is indeed ethical. Sincere good manners indicate respect and consideration for others. In general, we know only the public persona of Mr. Armitage; this is a glimpse of the private person.

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    • AND, and I think this is key in our world of “sincerity” where people often neglect manners because they don’t “feel them,” practicing good manners can help one develop respect for others because the pattern of manners teaches one to see oneself in relationship to others in new ways.

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  6. Love this post. Good to hear that our man has no only manners but such a good heart too. Glad that I am not wasting my “crush” on another actor.

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    • This is a question I ask myself a lot — would I still have such a severe crush on him if it turned out that in his real life he was more like Tiger Woods? I think I wouldn’t. It’s not that I think he’s perfect — no one is — but what this sort of data indicates is that he at least knows how to behave well and tries to do that.

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    • I agree, is like even if we were trying not to have this ‘crush’, with things like this he would absolutely win me back.

      OML 🙂

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  7. To write a teacher and let her know how much she influenced him, is pretty admirable. Love it. Glad we have good taste in men. 🙂

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  8. […] up on his letter of condolence to the family of the late Betty Pattison, as Richard Armitage Online reports, Mr. Armitage recorded a brief message and reading for the […]

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  9. […] is in the U.S. More significantly for Armitage as an individual, however, I want to refer back to a post I made about manners following Ms. Betty Pattison’s death, because it caused me to look at the Pattison College website carefully to see what kind of […]

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  10. […] maketh man, as we’ve said before about Armitage, as at his statements about his former teacher broadcast a…. I’m not a big fan of “virtuous Armitage” as an idea. I don’t think this is […]

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  11. […] pigeon-toes, a bunch of kids in the same street who participated, a move to a stage school at 14, true admiration for his most important teacher there. Motives are always multiple, I think, and I’m sure he was a good dancer and wanted to go to […]

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