Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring into Self Respect

Now one can complain about a tough winter. By all accounts it was in fact the warmest and driest winter on record for the entire country. I enjoyed staying here in St. Andrews and was happy to take advantage of the mild weather while enjoying the Olympics on television. Coping with a nasty flu forced me to rest, something we need to do at this time of year. Spring is officially here now and it is clearly time to come out of hibernation.

As I suggested in a column discussing New Years resolutions, now is the time to begin implementing some of the hopes and goals we set for ourselves three months ago. As the earth shows rebirth and renewal in so many ways, it is perhaps the greatest opportunity for us to take a look inside of ourselves. After all, if we cannot set aside time to perform some internal spring cleaning, how will we be able to get down to the brass tacks of carrying out external chores?

I like to refer to this as self etiquette. Many of us have a difficult time allotting time to be kind and thoughtful to us. We are too busy; we have more important priorities; we have fires that need to be put out. In reality, we will be far more effective at handling most of life's challenges if we have our own bodies and minds functioning in as stress free and tuned in state as we can.

I am a great believer in making lists. I go so far as to have a flip chart in my office. It is loaded with spur of the moment ideas, bills to pay, projects to complete - both long and short term. And there is even one page devoted to inspirational words which help settle me when I am stressed and help me center my mind when I need to make important decisions. Lists help me to de-globalize my life. By that I mean, lists take any overwhelming and negative energies from overtaking my day. Writing something down moves the thought or task from my mind to the paper to let anything potentially stress filled stop me in my tracks. I break tasks down into steps; I compartmentalize jobs, chores and personal obligations into manageable sizes. What I soon come to realize too is that what seemed like a daunting chaotic morass of decisions and problems are dealt with in a far more graceful, skillful and less time-consuming way than I had imagined.

Getting into the habit of making lists is not unlike making other sorts of commitments to oneself. Perhaps we want to increase the awareness of our own state of health. Seeking input from doctors, who are not mind readers, can help facilitate this and can help put us in the drivers seat of decisions concerning our health care. Maybe we would like to commit to spending more time with our families. Perhaps we might want to think about what we eat and how and where that food is produced and prepared. These are all wonderful ways we can ignite self etiquette.

The more ways that we can be respectful of our minds and bodies; the more times we can show compassion to ourselves; the more kindness and recognition we focus on us, the more skillfully and easily we can exhibit these behaviors towards our families, friends and colleagues.

Spring is the time of year when we inhale deeply a restorative breath; we 'spring clean' our houses, cottages, and places of businesses. Many of us return to our gardens and begin preparing the soil for the bounty of summer and autumn. We feel this renewal in our bones and in our souls. With this breath comes an ability to perform random acts of kindness, to praise our loved ones, and to appreciate the world around us. This is the time of year when we can restore our sense of gratitude and to redouble our efforts to help our friends and neighbors who need our assistance. Pay a visit to someone who cannot leave their house. Call a friend just to let them know you're thinking about them.

I believe in celebrating Spring. It makes me feel better about myself and it makes me more aware of the many blessings I have as well as giving me a renewed strength to handle those situations which are challenging. The magical part of this season is that most of what I learned in adopting this renewal I learned from my family and friends with a healthy dose of intuition. Happy Spring!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

It has recently been suggested to me on separate occasions and by the same person that one, I ‘should practice what I preach’, and two, that I should become a butler. We all know that we teach that which we most need to learn, so the first admonishment came as no surprise. I admit to balking at the second suggestion but upon closer consideration, thought I might explore that avenue. I came across a fine institution in Toronto aptly named The Butler School. Charles MacPherson offers a comprehensive 8 week course designed to teach one everything required to be a first class household staff member. Were I not approaching 60, I would give enrolling more serious consideration. However, I have been in contact with them and will undoubtedly learn a great deal from what the school has to offer.

One early morning I suddenly awakened with the thought of buttons on my mind. I thought The Butler School will cover this subject. Alas, it is one subject time does not allow them to handle, so I will digress and delve into a few ins and outs of the button.

Have you ever noticed how buttons are attached to many new garments and then when you need them they seem to have vanished? Perhaps we threw them away when readying our new clothes to wear. Perhaps they snagged on something along the way either in the washing machine or on a trail in the woods. Invariably, thanks to three culprits, our buttons do pop off and do need to be replaced. One, over time our clothes mysteriously shrink and the buttons pop off from shear force. Two, the machine which stitched them on to begin with is systematically flawed and once the thread breaks in one spot, the thread comes unravelled. And three, the chemicals in the laundering process are so strong that they in fact cause the threads to disintegrate and the button falls off and is devoured by the washing machine. In most cases, a combination of one or more of these culprits acts in unison.

To be honest, I am at the mercy of the button mavens when it comes to replacements. I do not have a button jar with needles and assorted colored threads parked in a logical place in a handy drawer. But miraculously a suitable button and serviceable needle and thread appear when necessary. I do remember when I was a child that my mother and grandmother had sewing baskets teeming with hundreds of buttons and other paraphernalia that only they would know how to employ. Whatever route you decide to take, I hope buttons will be there when you need them.

When discussing this column with a friend, she launched into the whole question of buttoning buttons - or not. Although originally buttons were used for fastening, they soon became quite useful as decorative accents as well. Take for example, the three-piece business suit. There could be a lot of buttons to consider depending on the tailoring. However, the bottom button of both the vest and the jacket are should not be buttoned as a fashion rule. The same would be true of a suit styled with two buttons. Fastening the bottom button creates an uncomplimentary look no mater what body the garment is encasing. At the dinner table, by the way, it’s perfectly acceptable and far more comfortable to unfasten your jacket buttons - all of them. You will not only enjoy your meal more, but your jacket will hang straighter.

Buttons on shirt sleeves are curious as well. I have recently found that there is, to me, a new style. It’s a sort of two-button style, but instead of the buttons lining up one on top of the other they are placed side by each. This is undoubtedly to accommodate different wrist sizes. For me this presents a problem because my wrists are different sizes leaving me with the obvious dilemma of which button to choose. Surely I would want to use the same button on each sleeve for uniformity, making one sleeve too tight or one too loose. I suppose I should be happy that I have such a serious dilemma to deal with in the first place and just carry on.

Have you ever lost (okay, popped) a button at an inconvenient time, for example when dining out? I have. That scenario is usually accompanied with the question, “have you a safety pin I might borrow?” In these situations, my advice is to act as though nothing had even ever happened, making sure not to draw any attention to the mishap. Safety pin or not, this will test your true coping mettle. This may be a good time to excuse yourself and remedy the problem some how in the private. Consulting the wait staff or kitchen personnel might be a place to start. Resourcefulness rules! You will never have been so thankful for a safety pin in your life.

There you have it. Reflections on the button. It’s rightful place on a garment, how it is done and undone, and the idea that a safety pin may be your greatest ally in the world beyond the confines of your home.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Flicking Cigarette Butts

Several days ago a friend commented on how disgusted he was looking out his office window and watching a group of people smoking, huddled around the front entrance to another building. What irked him was the careless disposal of their cigarette butts onto the sidewalk or into the street. This act is a crystal clear example of disrespect. But this arrogance, to which many smokers feel they are entitled, is not the entire picture. One might ask, "Why doesn't the building provide suitable butt disposal receptacles; why don't the smokers put their butts in their cigarette packs; why, why, why not?" The list of arguments and suggestions are numerous. The basic principle of respect is what this simple act ignores completely. These folks have made a conscious choice to jeopardize their own health, which is their right. Being a reformed smoker, I sympathize with those who smoke and respect their choice. Quitting smoking requires a very big commitment and is much easier said than done.

There is also plenty of proof of the hazards of second hand smoke, hence the reason smokers are forced out of doors in the first place. Frankly, standing outside the entrance to a building and smoking does create an unpleasant atmosphere for others entering that building, another form of disrespect for others.

Flicking cigarette and cigar butts on the ground illustrates yet another case where entitlement takes hold. The thought process goes along these lines. "If I have to be inconvenienced to the point of being forced outside to have a smoke, I have every right to flick my butt into the street." For some it is such a knee jerk reaction that it doesn't seem to qualify as a conscious choice as much as a simple involuntary reaction. This is where disrespect is elevated to the level of arrogance.

This is why in front of some store fronts, even here in St. Andrews, cigarette butts can be seen strewn all over the sidewalk directly in front of a butt receptacle. Yet this behavior is evident in cities and towns everywhere. As a result, the responsibility to keep the sidewalks free of litter falls on the shoulders of the shopkeepers themselves, some of whom are oblivious to the eyesore and ignorant of the fact that their lack of caring is in and of itself, a form of disrespect.

I know that I make a point of picking up butts in front of and behind my building when the culprits are actually smoking. In some cases this has a positive effect, but not always.

One can stroll down the avenues of bustling New York City and see cigarette butts whisked away by an army of street cleaners. However in smaller towns and villages, local pride can speak volumes to visitors on whom their entire economies depend.

This harkens back to the days when dogs could freely roam the street of cities and owners were not responsible for cleaning up after them. In fact, it wasn't even considered necessary. Your dog would do it's business in the street and the street sweeper would remove it in due course. I remember clearly the distinctive stench in cities like New York and especially Paris. Eventually laws were enacted banning such irresponsible practices and the difference to these cities was dramatic. For the most part today people pride themselves in looking after their dogs responsibly.

Legislating human behavior has historically proven to be ineffective except in such obvious cases as traffic laws and human rights. Even then, people are constantly pushing the envelope. What, then, can we do? One thing companies can do is to remind their employees that they are representing the company even when they are not working. Allowing workers to smoke during work outside an office building does indicate a lack of respect for the community if inadequate space and receptacles are not provided.

Therefore, it comes down to each of us who smoke to take the moment it requires to leave our surroundings the way we found them. Much like the sign in the airplane washroom which asks each occupant to wipe the sink so the next passenger has a clean place to wash their hands, so too we should leave the streets and sidewalks as clean as they were when we walked onto them initially.

Please keep in mind that flicking a lighted butt anywhere is a potential fire hazard.

It also is an opportunity to burn an animal's feet, like a dog walking along the street

where a butt has just been carelessly flicked.

Flicking your butt in the street, while driving a car, riding in a boat or even walking along a sandy beach or rocky coastline is just plain wrong. If this one careless thoughtless act were to be eliminated from our daily lives, it would send ripples of civility everywhere.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Etiquette Through the Eyes of the Olympic Experience

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver were phenomenal, even epic, in so many ways. The heartwarming and gut wrenching stories which began even before the games opened provided a backdrop for one of the most emotion filled two weeks I can remember. With these stirring moments come many examples of how etiquette and respect play a major role in everyone's lives. These events played out on the world stage by dedicated athletes, coaches and volunteers. And it does not take much thought for us to feel a certain personal connection to the experiences of these modern day heroes. Many of us can relate to the feelings of losing a parent or a child and how such a tragedy can derail us for some time. In two cases in these games, Joannie Rochette, the awesome Canadian figure skater who unexpectedly lost her mother only days before the games and Brian Burke, the courageous general manager for the American men's hockey team who recently tragically lost his son in an automobile accident, both found inspiration through the support of those people around them and the world community who encouraged them to go on. These are true heroes whom we will always remember because of their courage. The fact that these two individuals were treated with such respect and dignity and given the choice to opt out if they wanted to, is an example of how we might want to consider treating our friends, family and colleagues all the time. This appropriate, courageous behavior is an example of what etiquette is all about. Putting others first; being respectful of other's feelings no matter what; and supporting the decisions they choose to make with compassion. They both shone as a result, Joannie winning the bronze medal and the U.S. men's hockey team winning the silver medal, and made us all feel a little bit better about the world. And tragically we experienced the death of an Olympic athlete, Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili. We were able in a modest way through the internet to help console his family; to at least express our sympathies and send our prayers and love to his family. It was part of our moral responsibility to recognize the pain of this family and know that this death united all peoples as we watched the flags at the opening ceremony lowered to half staff. And because of our etiquette-what is instilled in each of us- we were able to respond to this devastating and unexpected death with grace. It is a healthy competitiveness that inspires our young athletes to meet on the world stage and deliver spectacular performances of their individual and team bests. We watch with great anticipation, cheering on our home country's participants expecting to win at the games. What we are also privileged to witness are the extraordinary friendships that exist and are grown at the Olympics. And though friends may compete against friends on the course in the end it is the friendship that is the real prize. This exemplifies the true Olympic spirit which is in fact the real human spirit. It is why we can strive for individual accomplishments and recognize and honor the strengths in others. As we watch these events metamorphosed into triumph, I find encouragement in my own life and see how important it is to take the time to discern between when it is appropriate to be in strong head to head competition and when it is time to be humble with gratitude and congratulations. This demonstrates the very core of a healthy civil society. Tom Brokaw's documentary about Gander, NL broadcast as part of the Olympics shows just how the human spirit connects us all in so many unlikely and wonderful ways. Tragedy does give birth to miracles. This documentary by one of America's living legends was like icing on a rich cake. It reinforced what it means to be Canadian. Self sacrifice is a part of everyday life. An overwhelming situation, the horrendous events of September 11,2001 and the dire need to land all airplanes bound for the United States on Canadian soil as soon as possible, was transformed into one of human generosity at its very best. Like most Canadians, the people of Gander wanted nothing in return. Their modesty and selflessness represents the views and values of Canadian society in general. There was something about the Olympics which transcended this usually reserved pride and provided a moment where raw human emotions shined through like a strong beacon. It won't linger long I imagine, but during these tough times for so many people, this as a well needed shot in the arm and there was no hesitation about celebrating. Team Canada, a group of world class athletes most of whom had never met before the games, jelled into a cohesive unit and gave hope to the world, especially the youth, that adversity can be overcome; that friendships run deep and true; and that compassion, humility and mutual respect make us all glow inside. These dynamics pull at our heart strings because they mirror the very way we can choose to live our lives. I like the Olympics because they serve as such a brilliant exclamation mark and awaken our latent awareness of human decency. As the days follow along into spring, and the Olympic moments fade into our memories, I hope the feeling of human kindness remains emblazoned in the forefront of our minds.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Business Dinner

The Business Dinner

Following on from last week's suggestions for a successful business lunch, here I would like to cover some of the different situations one encounters as both a host and a guest at a formal business dinner.

The host will invite people an hour before dinner to enjoy cocktails or other simple libation which allows guests to greet one another and relax with some small talk. As a guest it is appropriate to arrive within 15 minutes of the time of the invitation. Skipping this part of the evening is disrespectful, and forfeiting this time takes away a good opportunity to network with others.

The attire for dinner is usually stated on the invitation. Business attire suggests a suit and tie is proper for men and a cocktail dress or business suit for women. A strand of pearls, a small dinner ring and/or a brooch might be recommended as accessories.

Black tie or business formal would suggest a choice of wearing a dinner jacket (sometimes referred to as a tuxedo), or a dark suit and tie. Women would wear a long or knee length dress. Men should wear a white shirt and black shoes.

The host will have a reason for inviting people to dinner and place cards will indicate where people are to sit. This helps facilitate the whatever agenda the host has in mind. The guest of honor customarily sits to the right of host. A male guest of honor might also be seated to the right of the hostess and with his wife seated to the right of the host. Order of precedence can play a factor also at formal dinners especially when elected officials are present.

The host will offer a welcoming toast once everyone is seated, following grace, if there is one. During the dessert course, the host will likely offer a toast to the guest of honor. This is suitably followed by a return toast to the host. Guests should raise their glasses, refraining from clinking and drink to the honoree, who does not touch his or her glass. A good tip for toasting is to be sure to practice your toast several times in advance. And remember the three 'B's; Begin, Be brief, and Be seated.

It is the host's duty, as with luncheons, to see to every detail. The host will also direct the conversation, eliciting comments from the guests. Guests are expected to stay on topic if there is one. But in many instances, the dinner is one to thank or congratulate associates for business accomplishments, and not to actually conduct business at all.

Wine is often accompanies the meal. Wines are usually selected by the host in advance and are poured by the wait staff at the instruction of the host. For example, a white wine may be served with a fish or soup course, followed by a red with the main course and champagne with dessert. Many combinations are possible and these details are sensibly worked out with the manager of the club or restaurant when the menu itself is discussed. The menu too can have variations ranging from a set menu to a special menu with a few choices to a full menu. Factors such as time and budget as well as a consideration for the types of food your guests would enjoy contribute to menu design. Sorting out and paying the bill is best discussed by the host and management. As always, the bill should not be brought to the table. In regards to gratuity, an 18% to 20% tip is not out of line, given the additional time and effort often required of the staff.

Centerpieces are a nice personal touch at any dinner table and should be kept low, not higher than 6 to 8 inches or very tall, about 24 inches with narrow holders for flowers so as not to obstruct cross table vision. At larger functions, menu cards and dinner programs can be set at each place.

The host will shine with confidence and make his or her guests feel relaxed and special if every detail is carefully planned for. There is no better way to show gratitude for a job well done; to welcome an out of town business associate to town; or to celebrate the accomplishments of a group of business people who have worked hard and achieved a goal. Guests truly enjoy getting all "shined up" for a lovely evening out. Business dinners are great occasions to put one's best foot forward and be grateful for the rewards of hard work.