Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Love and good manners
We use good manners to show people that we love them.
Let's take that statement apart a little bit.
Sometimes you might burp (or worse) in front of a family member, rather than in front of a stranger. Whom do you love more? If you love your family member more than you love the stranger, why do you commit the breach of manners with your family member and not with the stranger?
This phenomenon can spread to other areas: Who are you going to let down when you find that you have two overlapping commitments? Your spouse, or your boss?
Sometimes what we find ourselves calling "love" really means, "I assume that you love me. Unconditionally. So I can treat you casually, or even mistreat you, because I know that you will be faithful and loyal to me."
There is something faulty about this. Yes, we should be comfortable around those closest to us. We should not fear rejection. But is it permissible to treat our most precious relationships with offhandedness that is difficult to distinguish from rudeness?
When we grace people with good manners, we are being gracious. We let them know that they are important to us, that their opinion matters to us, that we are concerned about how things look from their point of view. This is one way of expressing love.
Opening the door.
Handing the cup with the handle outward so the receiver can take it without awkwardness.
Cleaning and preparing rooms for the guests.
Offering your name, your hand, your encouragement, your time.
Offering another serving of food or another cup of tea.
Stepping back and letting the other go first.
Explaining the back story.
Noticing how someone feels, and taking steps to mitigate uncertainty, loneliness, pain or fatigue.
Asking caring questions.
Eating quietly and neatly.
Cleaning up behind oneself and lending a hand with general tidying up.
These are good manners. Good behavior. The world would be a better place if more people did more of these things more often.
A key point of good manners is to practice putting yourself in the other person's place. Imagine how he feels, what it looks like from his perspective, and how you can best guard his dignity and ease his experience. It is a theory of mine that people often overlook the possibility that fussy babies itch, and that many tears are related to neither anxiety nor intestinal distress, but could be cured by a baby lotion massage. Similarly, where manners are concerned, we are too often worried about whether someone is angry, when we should really be concerned about whether the person is sad, or even just embarrassed. Applying an insightful imagination to the problem can be most valuable in determining a good solution.
Sometimes people with good manners forget the most important good manner of all: grace for those who do not know good manners.
It is never good manners to criticize someone else's manners.***
I don't think anyone has ever responded to the statement, "You are a boor and a lout," by hitting himself on the forehead and saying, "Oh, I'm sorry! You're right. I have been a boor and a lout. Let me change that right now!"
How does one change a boor or a lout into a pleasant person? How does one help another to improve in manners?
By extending grace.
By speaking gently, and smiling.
By treating the other person as one would want to be treated, oneself.
By distracting bystanders from offenses and shameful behavior.
By diffusing a situation with kind (perhaps self-deprecating) humor.
By refraining from being critical, sarcastic or wretched.
This may or may not help the offender effect change. However, it will always mitigate the situation for others involved. If you are the polite one, you will grow in grace. I recently heard someone say, "You will never be sorry that you were gracious to someone." The more I think about it, the more I realize it's true.
Using good manners is one of the best ways to live graciously. To live graciously is to pick up where others leave off and, in so doing, to see that the bases are covered and life is good for those in your circle, even if you compensate at cost to yourself (you will almost always compensate at cost to yourself).
I am not talking about being an enabler. I'm talking about covering over offenses of manners, not covering up abuse and blatant sin. Abuse and blatant sin need to be confronted bravely, but that is a subject for a different post (and probably not this month).
In the meantime, let's share a little love and kindness by treating others with the very best manners we can muster.
I probably need to read this over about 100 times.
***Unless you are the person's parent, and it is your job to teach good manners from the ground level... but still, keep the critical attitude at bay, and be positive even though you must offer correction.