Monday, August 30, 2010

The Empty Nest

A friend off mine recently suggested I look into the etiquette and dynamics which surround those of us who have become empty nesters. Life changes dramatically when the children to whom you have given so much nurturing over the years are suddenly no longer under your roof. She wrote to me, "there are all kinds of us empty nesters- mine came a bit sooner than anticipated under circumstances I didn't anticipate so I am winging it...but also biding my time wondering if the college student will be back post degree, or the younger one asking to come back with a baby and girlfriend/wife. Hope you cover stages of empty nesters and "temporary" empty nesting. Whichever it is, I've found it a bit odd when someone says, "oh, now you can come to our house one of these weekends"--my first reaction is I have to think about this...who might need me in town (even though they don't live with me!)... getting better though! My husband, Jim, says "let's get going while the getting is good and go!"

Untying the apron strings can be just as difficult for the parent as for the child. There tend to be residual feelings of needing to help, of fixing things, and of being responsible for other peoples' well being. Not being a parent myself, I can only imagine the challenges. However, from the perspective of the child, and being able to step back and observe my own family dynamics, I can say that there are major adjustments. There's a lot of new time on your hands which used to be filled with a series of responsibilities. Once these no longer require your attention, there is this void which suddenly becomes part of your reality. That can be accompanied by feelings of fear, excitement, freedom and a whole host of other possibilities. Everyone one of us is different. It is important to accept these differences and to allow customizing of this extra time to take whatever form it may. There is no right or wrong way to approach or handle this altered state of existence.

One event that a person finds time for after the children are out of the house is accepting invitations to high school and college reunions. Rekindling friendships which started when we were children ourselves is invigorating, rejuvenating and balancing. We have time to rediscover things that we might have lost or set aside during child rearing years. Now that we have time on our hands to devote a little more attention to ourselves, reconnecting with long lost friends can be a lot of fun.

Some people want to continue their education. It's interesting how different the dynamic is when you return to school as an adult to complete a diploma or start the path to a higher scholastic degree. There is a feeling of desire that isn't always present when we are in our teens or twenties. We can decide to study topics which really interest us intellectually as opposed to a real focus of preparing us for the job market. I have one friend who is doing both, that is pursuing education to go into a field she has dreamed about, and she is studying topics of great interest, all in pursuit of the goal of a college degree. It requires dedication, courage, and a real sense of adventure.

Many people have full time jobs, do charitable work, and of course maintain their familial connections. This is multi tasking in one of its highest forms. Men and women both have enormous responsibilities and have historically each worked. Work was not defined solely in terms of monetary reward. Working the fields in the old days, and living without the modern conveniences of the past hundred years, folks have always worked hard. With less emphasis on the element of just survival, time takes on a different perspective. It affords people the possibility of following one's dreams.

In the exuberance of this new lease on life it important to keep in mind that plans can change; the flock can return in fits and starts unexpectedly; and you are then faced with choices. Can they come back to the nest or do you encourage them to face life's challenges on their own? These choices are as complex as one can imagine and there is no right or wrong answer on how to handle them. I am of the school which says that children need parental support for varying amounts of time; sometimes intermittently; and in some form or another throughout their lives. We all grow up at our own speed and arbitrary ages have little bearing on much of how we mature. Show compassion always; be fair and civil to yourself and your family at all times. Life is short and happiest when we learn to bend like a willow.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reader Question: Office Etiquette

Etiquette at the office is a large topic and an important part of the efficiency and atmosphere we all share during our busy work days. From time to time I’ll touch on certain aspects of this dynamic as questions arise. I recently received the following email from a gentleman in the northern part of the province.

Good morning Mr. Remer,

As I looked forward each Saturday to your column, it occurred to me that perhaps, with your training & experience, you might be able to solve an inter-office conundrum. It's not exactly driving me crazy, but probably putting me on the designated pathway.

I am from the "typewriter age", in which the efforts put into my correspondence are done in respect of my recipient’s intelligence and accuracy requirements. Alas, within our company are two secretaries who clearly have grown up in the "instant message" age, where acronyms are common and spelling, grammar, etc. are not. I have tried being humorous, returning notes which I have horribly misspelled and/or made grammatically incorrect, as well as an occasional low level of teasing, with no change whatsoever.

Would you have any suggestions as to corrective methods, short of calling them illiterate?

Thanks, Dwayne.

Good Morning Dwayne.

I understand your dilemma. I would handle this by reminding them that clients do not appreciate misspellings and incorrect grammar. They should never send a memo or any correspondence without using spell check and grammar check first. Oddly enough, they are probably aware that they can't spell and simply don't care. Such an attitude has been known to cost people their jobs. I have no idea what your position is relative to theirs, but whoever their
supervisor is should know how to handle this.


Jay Remer

In fact this is just one of many annoying practices that have evolved in today’s lightning fast paced business world. Good communication is very important and this includes both verbal and written skills. Just because we have the ability to send messages around the globe at warp speed doesn’t mean that any less care should go into crafting their content. On most computers today, in the office software, there are spelling and grammar check options. I suggest using them all the time, but remember that many words slip by spell checks If a word is spelled correctly spell check accepts it; spell check does NOT put in the intended word and so proof reading is still very important. If you are sending an important document, it is advisable to have another set of eyes check it for this very reason. Be careful when you select which mode of communication to use when sending a message. Emails are fast and efficient and work well in most cases. An actual letter received in the mail is likely to get more attention and provides the receiver with
something to reference back to and to file. A hand written letter will receive the most attention and should be reserved for personal and thank you notes.

In many instances, cubicles have replaced offices. Because the new spaces are not totally enclosed, the conversations one has with clients, while on the phone or while speaking with colleagues can be overheard. Verbal communications should be carried out keeping in mind that others can and will hear much of what you have to say. Respect for one another’s space is so important in these instances. If you are having a conversation which should be confidential, make sure you have it in a private office with the door closed. Hearing only a glimpse of a private conversation can set off the rumor mill around the water cooler like gas on a fire. But another aspect of showing this respect is that the noise from conversations, much like the news bulletins coming from a colleagues computer, are very annoying to listen to. It distracts one from concentration and is a source of stress. In a word, it is rude.

Speaking in a loud voice on the telephone or on one of the many hand held devices is also very distracting. I notice this in offices, in airports and in walking down the street. Frankly I am not interested in details of one’s private life, nor am I interested in listening to how authoritative one is or is going to be the next time so and so steps out line. I am less interested in their views on politics, religion and their private sex lives. But for some reason, since the very introduction of cell phones, many people seem to think that we all want to share in their personal stories. Guess what? We don’t! Speaking in public about private matters is generally a symptom of one’s insecurity and complete lack of consideration for others. It is a reflection on one’s own self respect. The sooner we practice these respectful ways of communicating, the sooner they will become habits and the sooner the office will be a more productive and stress free environment in which to work.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Coloring Outside the Lines

I remember one of the most fun activities we participated in when attending kindergarten was coloring in art class. Often times we were handed images in black outline to which we could add whatever colors we wanted. It was emphasized that coloring outside the lines was to be avoided. This may have been an instruction with long term conflicting messages. One school of thought says that "everything we needed to know, we learned in kindergarten". Another school says that coloring outside the box shows creativity and courage. Whichever school you subscribe to, the basic idea of boundaries and how we respect them is the bottom line.

Much as we have boundaries in our coloring books, so we have them in many real life situations which are somewhat more sophisticated. We find boundaries for ourselves which we don't want others to cross. This is healthy and it helps define for others where respectful interaction begins and ends. From the distance we stand from each other when shaking hands to the types of personal questions we entertain as acceptable, there is a whole spectrum of behaviors which define who we are and what we are comfortable with.

Being civil to one another and understanding what is off limits and what is fertile ground for building relationships is all part of the social process in which we conduct both our business and social lives. Understanding what and where our boundaries are; in fact, becoming aware of them to begin with, helps us understand where others' are as well.

How many times have we thought to ourselves, "that's none of my business", or perhaps, "that's none of your business". These are clear cut examples of when boundaries are being crossed. We consider it rude and insensitive when people step over that invisible line. Know that others feel the same way when we do it to them. There are times when gossiping becomes a central conversation. More times than not, gossip is more than communicating factual information. The
intention of gossip is to empower the messenger by maligning someone else, usually with only half-truths, most often with blatant falsehoods. Becoming swept up in this dynamic is unfortunately very easy to do. It also does tend to make us feel uncomfortable. These are other examples of not respecting one another's boundaries.

A friend and I were discussing this recently and the question came up as to how to react to such a situation. Do you call them on this behavior on the spot and embarrass them into changing the subject? I would suggest that there is a better solution. It reminds me of the times when people say hurtful things unintentionally. As I have mentioned in the past, a cardinal rule of etiquette and a cornerstone of a healthy society is never to embarrass someone in public, intentionally or not. Therefore, my advice is to speak directly to the gossip and simply state that his or her remarks make you feel very uncomfortable. Rarely do people want to instigate this type of reaction and they will likely avoid this in the future. Above all, your remark, delivered in private, will clearly place the ball in their court and from then on, they will be hopefully be making a conscious choice of whether to offend or not. There is always the old dog new tricks element to reeducating someone about the cost of gossip.

Perhaps slowing down a little bit and not blurting things out of our mouths without thinking through the consequences of how the other person might feel, might go a long way in maintaining healthy relationships. From these we can grow and live happier more fulfilling lives ourselves. We can be more aware of other peoples' feelings as we learn more about our own. Putting other people ahead of ourselves is a good thing to do sometimes and it is also a great behavior to pass along to our children.

Teaching children about their boundaries at an early age is a smart thing to do. Establishing positive self-esteem is important. One's true identity begins to emerge and mutual respect for others is a natural consequence. This is not to be confused with selfishness or seclusion, for that is more a result of anti social behavior, which can be interpreted as rude and unfriendly - the antithesis of a healthy social interactions.

By understanding and respecting reasonable boundaries we function with mutual respect, complying with the golden rule by doing unto other, as we would have others do unto us.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reader Question: Poor Service

A reader sent me this interesting question recently about how to handle poor service.

Hello Jay:

I have been enjoying your weekly columns. I do have a question for you.

What is the protocol to be adopted by someone dining in a restaurant where the wait staff has had no training in basic wine service let alone in the art of the sommelier? My wife and I recently entertained a mutual friend in a dining room in St. Andrews at lunch where the very pleasant young waitress knew absolutely nothing about wine service to the point of not even giving the host an opportunity to taste the wine, picking up the wine glass, filling the host's glass before the two guests etc. Is it poor form to gently assist the waiter in the correct service protocol or should one just accept the lack of training the wait staff has received and grin and bear it? To the credit of the young lady, she apologized for not knowing anything about wine service.

In my NB dining experiences, I tend to find the attitude of the, usually, young staff excellent but they have received only marginal training in the art of fine dining which reflects poorly upon the establishment. Most of these pleasant young people have not been brought up in a home where fine dining experiences are part of their formative years; hence it is incumbent on the owner/manager to give the proper training. It is difficult to change a poor attitude, but skills can be acquired at any stage in one's life.



Dear Ian,

I hear this question often, unfortunately. And it is not restricted to fast food establishments. Fine dining restaurants frequently neglect to properly train their staff, both on the floor and in the kitchen. This has always puzzled me as it ultimately does the server and the establishment an injustice. The result often times is a reduced tip as well as dissatisfied clients who may not return. Management needs to carefully instruct the staff in all of the correct steps of service including wine service.

As far as the proper protocol for your particular situation is concerned, you need to bring this to the attention of the restaurant manager. And it is important to do this without embarrassing the server. It is the manager who deserves any negative remarks you might have. Personally, I find proper protocol can be cumbersome at times and it is easier to help the server out of their bind by making a couple of helpful suggestions if you think they would be well received. I know when I managed our restaurant, if a new server was working and was still training to understand and execute steps of service, I would personally keep a close eye on the tables they were responsible for and gently assist when needed.

I completely concur with you when you mention that in spite of the fact that a young person may not have been raised in a home where formal dining was a part of life, this young work force may well have an excellent attitude. Teaching the correct skills associated with proper food and beverage service will enhance the atmosphere and reputation of any establishment and give these youngsters valuable tools for their careers and in life in general. I hope this helps.



Generally speaking, if you are unhappy with your meal, please speak with your server. They will deliver your complaint to either the manager or the chef. The manager will most likely speak with you directly to define the problems. He or she needs your feedback because they want your dining experience to be a positive one. That’s what building loyal clientele and a good reputation are all about.

Hopefully the problem can be resolved to your satisfaction. And when tipping your server, you must remember that they did not prepare the food. Poor food quality should not be a factor in deciding on a tip. I suggest a 15% gratuity in most restaurants and 20% in expensive restaurants. Wait staff earn most of their livelihood from tips, not from their hourly wages. This is a profession where people take great pride in delivering good service, especially if they have been properly trained and instilled with confidence. The experience of a delicious meal in fine surroundings and with pleasant servers can make for magic occasions. It is a time where mutual respect between client and wait staff can blossom.

The food and beverage industry aspires to exceed their customers' expectations particularly in finer restaurants, inns and hotels. Don't be shy when it comes to giving feedback, both positive and negative. It actually shows that you have respect for the restaurant, its staff and its guests.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Etiquette of Surprise!

Who doesn't love a surprise? Well, there are surprises and then there are surprises. Good surprises are generally well tolerated. Bad surprises have more challenges. In either case, we are thrown off balance a bit and how we react to this sudden change can determine the effect it will have on us.

Fun surprises to some people may not be received that way by others. It reminds me of times when practical jokes are played. Although the prankster may think his intention is to have some good fun and inject some humor into the party, the recipient may view this completely differently and this attempt at humor may turn into a very hurtful moment. Even though no harm was intended, because little or no thought was given to the entire process from both points of view, unintentional harm was done. This can really head south if this is one of those situations where the recipient had been the prankster at one point and this has turned into a pay back of sorts. In that case, there is intent to get even which necessarily involves putting the other person in his place, which is not funny and is in fact disrespectful and rude, especially if done in a public forum. Let's face it; a lot of people simply do not find practical jokes amusing.

It is helpful to remember that making people feel embarrassed, hurt, or in any way belittled can occur intentionally and unintentionally. This hurtfulness is amplified when others are around to bear witness to it. What this really means is that if practical jokes or any bad surprises are going to happen, do it private, perhaps even in a way that you yourself are not present. By thinking through completely how this whole process will unfold and how it will affect everyone involved will go a long way to diminish embarrassment and scars on friendships. This is true of all friends and family. No one is immune to have one's feelings hurt. I know Eleanor Roosevelt has a famous and very meaningful quote: "No one can insult you without your permission." Although this clearly puts the responsibility for and control of ones feelings clearly in one's own lap, this is sometimes easier said than done. Err on the side of caution. Put yourself in the other person's shoes before taking action.

Bad surprises also often take the form of bad news. Sadness likely results which is a normal emotional response. Whether you are the bearer of bad news or the recipient, having compassion for one another is the surest way to establish the comforting and all-important sign of respect, caring and kindness. This is what civility is all about. It is during these times of high stress when we most need compassion and respect for one another and it is the time when we are most vulnerable to forgetting how necessary this is.

Good surprises can also be fraught with hazards. The exuberance we feel when we hear good news or find ourselves in the position to deliver to an unsuspecting recipient as a surprise can cause us to temporarily lose sense of good reason. This manifests in words spoken which we would just as soon be able to reach out and grab back. We can be prone to saying silly things when we get excited and usually they are meant to amuse and not to do any harm. However, similar to the delivery of a practical joke, we can unintentionally make a faux pas and say something hurtful. This is not say that we need to resist exuberance. What it does mean is that if we are more aware of what we are saying and how how it is likely to be received, we can move through these excited times with even more enthusiasm and grace.

To pass on these qualities of enthusiasm and grace, compassion and kindness, and civility and respect for others and for one's self to our children and those around us will help make for a happier and healthier community. To adapt these behaviors as second nature will make our own lives happier and healthier too.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reader Question: Ring a Ding

Dear Jay,

My husband and I have enjoyed your columns. We have had lively discussion with friends regarding napkins and seating arrangements at dinner parties. I have two questions: Firstly: how should one answer the telephone at one's home, and how should employees be instructed to answer a business phone? Secondly, shouldn't one announce who is making the phone call? I find it disconcerting when I have no idea to whom I'm speaking. Thank you, Jay.

Yours truly,


Dear V.R.,

Thanks for asking these good questions. Answering the telephone at home and at work does have different protocols and manners associated with them. At home, one should answer the telephone with an enthusiastic ‘hello’. The tone of one’s voice says a lot about your frame of mind. Even if you’re not in a good mood, and you decide to answer the phone, inject warmth into your voice. It makes others feel good. If you can’t manage to do this, which some people just can’t, then let the answering machine take the call. If the call is for someone else, refrain from shouting out the person’s name if they are in another room or on another floor. It’s rude and upsetting to others who can hear you. For that matter, if you need to speak with someone who is visually out of sight and likely out of earshot of a normal voice, get up and go to that person. If someone does that to me, I don’t answer. Call me old fashioned, but it was not tolerated in my household when I was growing up.

Teach children how to have good telephone manners as well. You must understand these good manners yourself. It’s kind of like men wearing hats (or baseball caps or toques) indoors. How are children supposed to learn that that’s just wrong if you don’t teach them by example? Answering telephones can be a serious matter. Wearing a hat inside the house is just disrespectful and bad manners. Strangers can call and unsuspecting children can give out way too much information. I remember calling a friend’s house once, looking for either him or his wife. The house sitter answered the phone and told me that they would be away for a week. I had not identified myself, and had I been a thief, with the information she gave me, I would have been able to stage a robbery. Moreover, if small children are at home, a kidnapping could have taken place. I know this may sound alarmist to some folks, but this stuff happens and it is extremely important to teach your children at an early age exactly what to say.

Apologize if you dial a wrong number; don’t eat or drink while speaking on the phone as those unattractive sounds are magnified; and turn down the radio or TV when answering a call for the same reason. Keep a note pad and pencil by each phone and write down messages which will be clear and have all of the pertinent information. Make every effort to return any calls within 24 hours. And if you do not want to answer the telephone, for whatever reason, don't!

At the office, the protocol is somewhat different. Still, a cheery voice gives a good impression of your company. You never know when the call coming in is from a first time caller. It helps to actually smile when you answer the phone. Unless you have your own home business, an enthusiastic ‘hello’ is not sufficient. It is much better to answer with “Windsor House, Jay speaking”, or “Good afternoon, the Windsor House”. Recorded greetings which direct you somewhere else are totally annoying. We all really want to get a live person on the wire. Telephone companies, banks and credit card companies are notorious for this.

If you are an executive assistant, be sure to always use an honorific (Mr., Dr. or Ms.) before the person’s name. For example, say, “Dr. Smith’s office, Ms. Jones speaking.” This gives the proper dignity due the person being phoned. When calling, and you get the secretary of the person you are looking for, feel free to leave a complicated massage if the secretary is capable. Some corporations have highly skilled executive secretaries that can make heaven and earth move. Establishing working relationships with these individuals on the phone can be incredibly helpful in conducting future business.

In answer to your second question, yes it is necessary to identify yourself when you place a call. It is frustrating to be carrying on a conversation with someone only to later realize you have the wrong person on the other end of the phone. Being mindful of another’s time is also a courtesy to extend. Ask if this is a good time to speak with the other person. In any event, be sure to be civil on the phone. Never raise your voice or lose your temper.This is a sure fire way to lose a client or a contact. I find a pleasant phone call can make my day. One that goes on and on can have the opposite effect. Showing respect for one another is the name of the game.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Revisiting Visiting

This summer has been remarkable if for no better reason than for the unbelievably beautiful weather we've enjoyed. With bright sunny days, what better way to enjoy the company of friends and family than with a good old-fashioned picnic. I was recently asked, as an etiquette expert, an interesting question on a website which invites reader participation. The question was, "Is it okay to bring my own sporks (that clever invention which combines a fork and
spoon in one utensil) for my family to eat with because my hostess uses disposable plastic cutlery which goes against my environmental sustainability values." This seemed like a simple enough question to me to which I answered - No!, with a short explanation about keeping one's values to one's self whenvisiting someone else's house. I went on to explain that if you invite people toyour home, you are responsible for supplying the obvious cutlery required for eating the food being served. This, to me, is basic. Apparently, my opinion was not accepted by some readers who offered up a variety of different views. For example one person exclaimed that if she were having a party, she'd be thrilled if people brought there own forks and knives because then she would have fewer to wash up. Another argument was this was an opportunity to provide a teachable moment to her ecologically irresponsible friends. You get the general idea.

Luckily there a few folks who backed me up and shared the viewpoint that perhaps it is not appropriate to decide when teachable moments would suit your friends. As I began to uncoil from the surprise of these alternative points of view, I thought how useful such a simple question could illustrate a number of important points of etiquette which pop up from time to time in different situations. By understanding how these manners and habits can change in a simple situation such as with sporks, this dynamic will spread to other more complex situations
with greater ease.

First of all, if you are hosting an event, no matter how formal or informal, your job is to make your guests feel comfortable and welcome. When a meal is central to the get together, it is the responsibility of the host to make sure there is enough of everything including food and cutlery. In some cases, you will assign certain tasks to certain guests such as for a pot luck affair. Otherwise, guests should resist bringing anything more than a small gift. The host is giving the party after all, not the guest.

Secondly, a party to which one is an invited guest is not a time to become the center of attention by thrusting your views - political, religious, or otherwise - on others, unless that is the express purpose of the event. This trap is one into which some people fall often quite unintentionally. Usually this is the result of not thinking how your strong opinions might be received. This act of 'unthinking' is actually very disrespectful. Therefore, if you want to share your views on
recycling, either do it in a public forum or at your own house, but not at someone else's house.

The guidelines of etiquette are flexible to be sure. However, making someone else, especially the hostess, feel inadequate, uninformed, or in any way uncomfortable, either intentionally or unintentionally, is never a good idea. Likewise, the concept of thinking that it's perfectly fine for your guests to feel free to bring whatever they want and behave however they want is not cool. It enables disrespectful behavior by endorsing their assumption that the host/hostess is
inadequate in his or her ability to throw a nice party unassisted. We need not look too far to see how respect has taken a back seat to a carefree attitude. Though carefree ought not to become careless and become hurtful in some way. The way to avoid an unwanted hurtful result is to think through what one is about to say and do. As a guest it is our place to enjoy the visit with the host/hostess who has included us in a gathering. And our job to behave respectfully. We must be mindful of others and what we practice as positive examples. After all, our behaviour is a clear reflection of who we are and if our children learn their behavior from us let them learn good manners. Being aware of how our words and actions affect others is a behavior well worth passing along.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Who Said So?! - The Origins of Etiquette

“So where did all these rules for good manners and proper etiquette originate?” That was a question recently asked of me by the father of a close friend of mine. And it is a good question. After all, when I was a young boy and asked the “Why?” question that all young children ask, the answer was usually “because I said so!” But as we grow up, we actually tend to ask questions because we really want to know the answer. Good manners and protocol are the cornerstones of all civilized societies and date back as recorded codes to the ancient Egyptians, around 2000 B.C. The text known as the Prisse Papyrus is still preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. It is entitled The Instructions of Ptahhotep. Years later, as we evolved as a society and left the warring nomadic life behind, it became necessary and in fact desirable to establish official public documents whereby various heads of state or their ministers could communicate. Thus protocol was solidified and has come to encompass diplomacy, ceremony and etiquette.

“Diplomacy is nothing but a lot of hot air,” said a companion to French Statesman George Clemenceau as they rode to a peace conference. “All etiquette is hot air,” said Clemenceau. “But that is what is in our automobile tires; notice how it eases the bumps.” And so it is in government, business and social circles today. An elaborate system of the
ways we communicate with one another shows that we have respect for our fellow man, and as well it reflects on our own self esteem. A lack of it is known in business circles as the silent killer. No one will point out your foibles; they just won’t want to do business with you. My friend’s father put forth the argument that acceptable behavior (in his mind synonymous with proper etiquette) was what the majority of people in society do by their own choice. As society’s habits change, then so do rules governing proper social behavior. To some extent this point of view has merit. However, for example, as mentioned in a previous column, just because most of us use computers and the internet to communicate, that does not mean hand written thank you notes will go out of style. There is always a balance of old and new. No where is this more evident than in fashion. Both men’s and women’s fashion come and go and then often times certain elements of a generation past, come back to the forefront.

In business, social, intergovernmental and diplomatic circles, these rules of behavior are slow to change. Granted, finger bowls may not be used at all White House dinners as they were in the past, but few other codes of behavior have changed. This flexible permanence gives stability to an unstable world.

Coincidental with my column of thank you’s was the insightful article by Kate Wallace on Margaret Vissar’s new book, “The Gift of Thanks”. However there is a stark contrast between my weekend column and this best selling author. In her new book by the same title, Ms. Visser delves into the origins and real meaning behind gratitude, from the point of view of an anthropologist. She debunks the theory that gratitude is in our genetic makeup and that it in fact needs to be taught. She goes back to primitive man and his social behavior. I can hardly wait to read this new book. Along with her earlier best sellers she really shows that the complex set of rules by which we as a society live, are based on practical measures and are based on common sense and are rooted well into the past.

The history and origins of etiquette are French. Etiquette used to mean “keep off the grass”. Dorothea Johnson explains, as founder of the Protocol School of Washington, “When Louis XIV’s gardener at Versailles discovered that the aristocrats were trampling through his gardens, he put up signs, or ‘etiquets’, to warn them off. But dukes and duchesses walked right past the signs anyway. Finally, the King himself had a decree that no one was to go beyond the bounds of the ‘etiquets’. The meaning of etiquette later was expanded to include the ticket to court functions that listed the rules on where to stand and what to do. Like language, etiquette evolves, but in a sense it still means “keep off the grass”. If we stay within the flexible bounds of etiquette, we will
give relationships a chance to grow; we will give ourselves a chance to grow; and we will be able to present ourselves with confidence and authority in all areas of our professional and personal life.”

Monday, August 2, 2010

Happy New Brunswick Day 2010

This Monday we will celebrate New Brunswick Day here. This is a relatively new holiday, having been adopted by the Legislative Assembly in 1976 as a provincial holiday, marked on the first Monday of August. Little more than an extra long weekend, in 1989 the Department of Tourism, Recreation and Heritage was charged with organizing the day into something more special. In 1990 the first expanded program which includes Merit Awards and themed events took place. Each year the weekend is hosted by a different town. This year Richibucto has the honor. The theme this year is "Pride in our Youth". This fits perfectly with the holiday's overall theme of the pride we feel in being New Brunswickers.

What many people enjoy the most about this weekend is the awarding of the Merit Awards. These awards are presented to people in many communities who have been nominated by local residents for having made extraordinary contributions to their community through volunteerism in any number of forms. The winners reflect the energy of the people of the province and help to make New Brunswick the wonderful province in which we have chosen to make our home. The number of awards varies from year to year within each community, and usually is a handful or fewer.

This year, in addition to the Merit Awards, there is a writing and drawing contest for the youth with the winner receiving a trip for their family within the province. This sort of contest is a welcome adjunct to the many athletic events which are far more prevalent during the summer months. Many students enjoy the mental stimulation of writing and drawing throughout the year. This wonderful idea appears to have stemmed from Business New Brunswick, as it was announced by Minister Victor Boudreau. This is just the sort of opportunity tomorrow's leaders need and will likely embrace. It offers a chance for today's youth to express themselves, to share their ideas and to hone their communication skills. Thus, this contest serves as the seed which germinates into tomorrow's leadership.

Learning how write creatively and to draw in nature are ways which enable to many of us to express ourselves in healthy ways. These avenues of expression are like threads in a fabric which are important to the whole. Without them something important would be missing. The fact that government is encouraging this dynamic is something we can all be grateful for. Such initiatives cross the desks of many legislative departments and it these sorts of interdependencies which, when appropriately carried on outside of the political arena, indicate that there is identifiable respect by the government for the people.

It was stated recently that New Brunswick is a small enough province that we ought to be able to do things right. And New Brunswick Day is a time when the people who are carrying the torch of doing things right as volunteers, are honored. Acknowledging such people, who come from every corner of the province and from every walk of life, who are not captains of industry or even highly visible, but who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make the lives of all New Brunswickers better, these are the people for whom this holiday is now celebrated. Recognizing people in this way is a form of respect which builds a strong foundation for the future of the province and validates the efforts which people go to to build a stronger and healthier society. This is in fact etiquette in action. As we practice praising one another, nominating excellence and feeling the appreciation that goes along with this, we are building a stronger New Brunswick, community by community.

I love holidays in general and especially those which give us the opportunity to put into practice the very underpinnings of a good life, namely, respect for each other and for ourselves; focusing our intentions on the positive events in our lives; and showing compassion for others as we share our time with them through the many volunteer organizations for which we work.

Happy New Brunswick Day everyone. Although this is a relatively new holiday, it may be one of our most important!