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.