We were having a lively discussion last night, my husband , two of my sisters-in law and I, and the subject of this blog came up. “I think the next one will be about manners .” I said. “You can say goodbye to your readership then…” said my husband with a grin and we laughed. He is probably right, what topic could be duller?! But I also think that while nothing could be duller, nothing so inherently dull is also quite so potentially revolutionary.
Growing up with a mother who was at least as fond of finding morals in the everyday as Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts, my sister, brother and I had a childhood liberally doused with them in the form of cliches that were often illuminating, occasionally head-scratchingly strange. Some were irrefutably true: “It costs nothing to be nice.” , “Always be kind, because inside everyone is hurting.”, and “Words are like feathers from a pillow, once they are out there is no way to get them all back in again.”. Some were puzzling. “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Flies? Why would one want to attract flies?! And besides, even to an eight year old , there were disturbing undertones of calculation to this one . And then there was the flat out bizarre , all the more so for containing a seed of truth, like “‘Everyone to his own opinion’, said the old woman as she kissed the cow.” to illustrate the absolute right of others to hold opinions other than your own. Really Mom? As the old woman kissed the cow? This last was a particular favorite of my sister and I , we teased her absolutely mercilessly about it.
They all added up to a message that formed a life view, the perception that life can be a softer, gentler place with a little intention.
My mom was an impetuous , passionate and sometime imperious force in our lives. The era in which she lived and the circumstance of her life meant this fiercely intelligent woman lived a life that must have felt intolerably constrained at times. As a result, these mild and understated messages were all the more confusing and powerful in the context in which they were delivered, gentle messages coming from a place of passion and urgency.
Manners are at the very least the easiest (“It costs nothing to be nice.”) and the most effective way to infuse our everyday lives with kindness and a little sweetness (that damn honey!). Beyond that though, I truly think if we tried to live with the intention of thoughtfulness, things as little as letting a stranger with a fussing baby cut in front of you in the grocery line , the results would be nothing short of world changing.
The older I become the more I believe the Buddhist precept that life is filled with pain and that the glossiest exterior invariably covers an impressive collection of hurt, past and present. (“Always be kind, because inside everyone is hurting.”). Why not then really look into the eyes of the person you are talking to with a willingness to be gentle with them? Be they loved one, friend , stranger or foe? Why not slow down your car to let that car merge in who held out merging until the (VERY!) last minute while you were doing the “right” thing and got into the slow merge lane at the “proper ” time? He or she might be on the way to a dying parent.
Why not refrain from expressing every single small annoyance with one another (“Words are like feathers from a pillow, once they are out there is no way to get them all back in again.”) ? And besides, most of these annoyances fade to the size of a deer tick in the space of a few days. I remember with equal parts embarrassment and amusement a time when I had a huge argument with a Verizon employee on a Friday afternoon. “I want to speak with your supervisor !” I fumed. I was told that Amanda, the supervisor , would call me back Monday morning. She did. And I couldn’t even remember why I had been so very angry the previous week. The deeply outraged self of Friday afternoon was a complete stranger to the calm and reasonable self who answered Verizon’s call Monday morning! Remarkable.
It is such a very small thing, good manners, a social lubricant. But I honestly believe we could actually change the world with good manners and transform it into a world that truly is more civilized, fair and kind. I mean, just imagine it for a moment, really think about what it would be like living in a world where the extension of small courtesy was absolutely universal. Extraordinary, right?
I know I don’t always live up to my own ideal here and some of my “good manners” have a whiff of rebellious brat to them. One of my very favorite things to do in this category is to say, hold a door for a stranger, and when this is received with absolutely no acknowledgment from said stranger , smile brightly and say a hearty “You are very welcome!”. Try it ! The inevitable look of confusion “Huh, did I say thank you and didn’t realize it?” and upset “Wait a minute…is she making fun of me?!” (I am!) is absolutely priceless. And yes, I know this goes against absolutely everything I have written here…what can I say, I’m no saint… it is a LOT of fun to do…and I justify it , with a degree of conscious disingenuousness, as a teachable moment …
So , against all excellent advice, here is my post on manners, one of the world’s least “sexy” topics . Thank you for reading it and please come back again ! I do hope I haven’t said “goodbye” to all you with it~
And if I have? Well, I suppose, ” ‘Everyone to their own opinion,’ said the old woman as she kissed the cow.” !