Thursday, December 30, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

Etiquette for the New Year

The time has come once again to begin to set our sights on the fast approaching New Year. It's Christmas after all and a time for most of us when our families get together to celebrate this joyous holiday. We can look back over the past year and contemplate the many blessings we have received. For me, the year was one for new endings and new beginnings. As I often do, near the start of a new year, I make a list of all of the projects I would like to start or finish during the coming year, dividing them into business, personal, and spiritual. This helps me to set goals and to monitor my progress throughout the year, making necessary adjustments along the way. It's interesting to compare the lists from year to year and in so doing, catch a glimpse of how I am changing both within myself and in my relationship to others. This is a very grounding activity, one which allows reflection as well as an opportunity to be grateful.

The world is facing some very tough challenges in the coming year. Across the globe many societies are in dire need of help. The planet is experiencing the effects of global warming and we are waking up to the idea that we must act responsibly as stewards in order to avert almost certain disaster. The economy is forcing many of us to endure struggles we had never hoped for. And, in many ways, we are coming together as humans to work to solve these problems more cohesively than ever before.

Those of you who have followed this column may have noticed that I have emphasized the need for compassion in our every day lives. What we do every day and how we do it is in fact the etiquette by which we choose to live our lives. The choices we make affect those around us continually. Being aware of how much of an impact we have on others helps us in making our choices. Therefore the more aware we are of what we are doing, the more careful we will be in how we choose to do it. Although this principle is widely accepted, it comes with no manual, no set of instructions on how to make the best choices we can.

During this coming year, I hope people will feel more comfortable putting others first, even if only a little bit more than they do now. I hope we can all learn to give ourselves and each other a break, even if only a little more frequently than we do now. And I hope we can protect our children from making uninformed and potentially harmful choices, even if we reach out to only one child more than we already do. If we all made a conscious effort in the coming year to be a little bit less self absorbed, a little bit more patient, and a little bit more compassionate, especially toward ourselves, we will wake up one day to a happier and more peaceful world.

The golden rules of etiquette will never go out of style and how we choose to use them will define who we really are to the world. Be kind always. Be truthful in all communications. Be grateful for everything. Respect all creatures equally. Have a wonderful New Year filled with joy, good health and many magical moments!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reader question: Saying it with gifts

Dear Jay,

For many years, our President has hosted a formal holiday party for staff and board members. This year, because of the economy, a decision has been made not to hold it.

I have been asked to put together a card to all employees and board members informing
them, thanking them for their commitment to the organization and wishing them a happy, healthy holiday season.

I am having a VERY hard time putting together appropriate wording - that will not offend, anger, or upset people. And will leave them with a warm fuzzy feeling.

In telling them that the party has been canceled, which is the main purpose of the card, how do I convey that the company is strong, but it is felt that in these sober times it is best to spend money on essentials, without sounding dour or making them feel like the company is not on steady ground?

What should be included in a VERY brief card sent to all employees?

Thank you!


Dear Erin,

Thanks for asking this good question. You do not need to feel embarrassed. Nor should you take responsibility for another’s feeling by worrying about angering, offending or upsetting them. Remember that your intentions are pure. I would word it something like this. "Due to the severe economic downturn, we have decided to cancel plans for our annual holiday celebration. Although our company is on solid financial ground, it seems inappropriate to display extravagance at this time". I would recommend printing this as a separate insert into the holiday card. The holiday greeting on the card could say, "Thank you for your commitment to (name of company) and wishing you and your family a happy, healthy holiday season".

Another suggestion, Erin, is to have a simpler gathering - if the feeling is that people want to have a gathering. This involves the individuals in the company creating such a gathering. Yes, making things to eat and bringing drinks either alcoholic OR NOT and if anyone insists on gifts let it be a secret Santa type thing with a dollar amount limit on the gift. This is a nice way to celebrate without totally eliminating a holiday gathering-people can wear whatever they like-formal, office dress and it keeps morale up and the spirit of the holidays alive. Simply canceling is depressing-economic mess or not.


Fiscally responsible companies owe it to their employees to set a good example in the arena of gift giving. The severity of the current financial crisis is not over yet and is likely to have a permanent effect on personal finances not experienced in almost 80 years. The days of extravagance are over. This is not something we have to apologize about. It is the result of a number of greed motivated factors aligning and bringing us back to a more responsible reality.

Proper etiquette in gift giving is as critical now as ever. The interesting thing about the protocol here is that it is no different than when the economy was racing ahead out of control. People often ask me how much an appropriate amount of money to spend for a gift is, whether it is for a holiday, a birthday or a graduation. There is no set correct answer. One person asked me if they should increase the amount they spend on a child when they reach a certain age. I personally don’t think age is an important consideration.

The bottom line is that you need to examine your own financial situation, decide what you feel you can afford, and then make an informed decision. If you used to spend $100 on a gift and this year you can only spend $50, then so be it. Only you can decide how much your relationship with the person means and how much you can afford to spend. It isn’t the amount of money that is important in gift giving. What is important is the heartfelt thought that went into the selection of the gift. Be sure it is personal.

People who are expecting or even counting on receiving a gift, especially cash, are going to be in for a big surprise. People are scrambling to make mortgage and automobile and insurance payments. Others are striving to eliminate all debt. Lavish gifts and envelopes filled with cash will be taking a back seat. But we do, as a society, love giving gifts. It makes us feel good inside to know that we have made someone else happy and cared for. It shows we have respect for one another and in turn respect for ourselves.

Remember when receiving a gift that someone has put you ahead of themselves one more time. They are not buying your friendship, but they are honoring the relationship they have with you. It is a form of respect which is a universal symbol demonstrating the importance of relationships. Cherish them during the holiday season. Take this
opportunity to reconnect with friends you haven’t seen or spoken to in a long time. You may never know how much gratitude they will feel. The gift of love is priceless. Be generous with it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Etiquette of the Past

Perhaps I had the cart before the horse in last week's musings on etiquette of the future, but as a follow up I am going to discuss briefly etiquette about the past. I went south this week to visit my family and friends which I always enjoy doing. While going through some old boxes from my grandmother, my mother and I discovered some 'treasures'. It always amazes me what people decide to hold onto and what to discard. In this case there was a poem I had written when I was 11 and other notes and letters which were important to a lady who was so influential in my youth. I had to wrack my brain to remember writing the poem and in so doing my mind was flooded with many happy memories. Here is my short poem from 1962:

The Tiny Creche

Simplicity of the tiny creation,
The darkness of the shelter;
Leads me into meditation,
And takes me from my welter.

The stillness of the tiny creche,
It is so good, quiet, and fresh;
The shelter dark, and the figures light,
Gives me the feeling of a mid-winter's night.

There is an angel inside the roof;
I think he is praying, though I have no proof,
And in the manger, Baby Jesus is laying,
With Mary and Joseph beside him praying.

But the small light figures,
Inside the tiny creche
Has made my mind clean and fresh.

This short time which we spent together reminiscing about olden days was an opportunity to remember the values which were instilled in me, namely respect for others, not taking anything too seriously, and valuing your heritage. As we leafed through a photo album which I had never before seen, my ancestors sprang to life and instantaneously revealed the roots from which my whole life philosophy evolved.

Connecting with our past and honoring it in some way can have a very positive effect on our lives. It removes from us our feelings of isolation. It helps to explain and to validate why and how we do the things we have chosen to do. Such opportunities also allow us to connect past and future generations and to share new discoveries with others. Without even realizing what is happening, we place ourselves in the back seat and, if only for a short while, we have a chance to put those who came before us in the forefront of our minds.

Many people today are finding great satisfaction in discovering their roots.Genealogy is as popular as scrap-booking, both of which transport us into another world. These departures are adventures into worlds beyond present time, opportunities to escape the hustle and bustle of our busy lives and to appreciate the people and events that gave us so much pleasure. These searches into our past evolve quickly into passions, even obsessions. When I was a young man I found great joy and fascination by studying my family tree and occasionally filling in missing leaf. Thankfully today, other family members have become equally interested.

This glimpse is a window into the importance we place on our past is also a reflection of traditions we choose to pass onto our children (or others' children should we not have our own). Finding comfort in continuity is a human condition which transcends political fads and foolishness.

Perhaps during this holiday season we will find some time to reflect on the many blessings those who have come before us have given us. Reflecting on the joy in our lives and how we are connected with our past can be very relaxing and peaceful. For those of us who feel loneliness or stress over the holidays can experience some relief by making such connections. We can rediscover why we do the things we do and who shaped our approaches to life. For those of us who get into the full swing of the holiday season, taking the time to really connect with others will help to ground us and make the time we spend with friends and family even more enjoyable. By connecting with our roots, we can find compassion for ourselves and for those around us.

As we unwrap gifts from loved ones we can reminisce about the times we spent together and take the time to appreciate our friendships. We can use this time to show our children how important others are in our lives and in our ability to be happy. Demonstrating by example the positive influence our friends and family have on us today helps those around us see how to be appreciative of how short life is, to be thankful for even the smallest blessing, and most importantly to put the needs of others ahead of our own.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Etiquette of the Future

I was fortunate enough recently to attend the 2nd 21 inc Ideas Festival. This conference was hosted in partnership with the Public Policy Forum and followed on the success of the first such event held two years ago. The focus of the forum was to examine how tomorrow's leaders will evolve from today's global economic climate and how their priorities will differ. The etiquette of tomorrow will need to be flexible, yet play a key role in how we as a province succeed on the international front.

The depth of quality of speakers and presenters that Tim Coates and his associates assembled was even greater than the first conference and I was privileged to listen to and meet some of Canada's greatest minds. From Roots of Empathy author Mary Gordon to Roger Jackson, the olympic gold medal winning oarsman and CEO of Own The Podium to newly elected Premier David Alward, the guests were treated to wonderful discussions on the visions these people and others have for the future of business in New Brunswick.

There appears to be a shift from focusing primarily on making as much money as possible to being as happy as possible. This is a large generational leap and one which, in my opinion, will result in a more civil business climate as well as a more successful one. I believe, as do many of my colleagues, that civility in the workplace is the key to improved productivity and innovative thinking. The effect that simply being a little nicer to those people with whom we work and do
business, i.e. our co-workers and our clients, has the potential to change the face of how we do business throughout the world.

I was somewhat surprised at the casual interchangeability of the words "Chinese" and "Asian". As time goes on, it will be increasingly important to be aware that Asia today is comprised of as many as 17 different countries, each with its own distinct culture and way of doing business. To compete and be a real player internationally, companies must not only be aware of these sometimes not-so- subtle differences, but take steps to understand and respect them as well. Asian history predates Western history by millennia and therefore their patterns and habits of intercultural discourse are even more deeply seated than we can imagine.

This is not to say that respect for our fellow man is going to change in any fundamental way. It does mean however that there will need to be a more sensitive and fuller awareness in understanding and respecting other people. Much of the political posturing in the world today smacks of bullying and is based in greed and distrust. The "millennial" generation is already becoming aware of this necessity, but is often lacking the diplomatic skills which would make this
new way of interacting, both socially and in business, easier and more genuine.

Taking the time to study the people from whatever country we plan to do business with and to understand what really makes them tick is time well spent. This is an exciting time in world history (not unlike most times), and a chance for us to become global citizens in character and responsibility. The old adage, "people like doing business with people they like and trust", has never rung more true than it does today. What a privilege it is to meet and befriend people from all over the world! We all want to live in a world where peace reigns supreme. In order to this we must conduct ourselves in ways which demonstrate a real respect for other cultures. We would do ourselves a favor by dropping the notion that we are in some ways superior to others and that our ways of doing things is the best way for everyone. This is simply not true and evident in light of recent international financial hardships and failures.

As humans we all have frailties. It is our nature. With these frailties also comes a need for compassion and respect. If today's leaders cannot show us how to do this by example, we must be prepared to raise the bar ourselves. The greatest message for me which came from the conference was a line from Mr. Jackson where he stated that "hope is not a strategy". We must take action and we must take it now, much the way he did by devising the system whereby Canada had the best winter Olympics, in terms of medals won, ever! Canada is a great country and the Atlantic provinces are well positioned to be leaders on the world stage. By acting with greater civility and having more respect and compassion for all of mankind, we're well on our way!

Thursday, December 2, 2010