Friday, April 29, 2011

The Etiquette of Giving of One's Self

Easter weekend has arrived! For many people this is an important religious holiday where the resurrection of Christ is celebrated. For others who do not officially recognize this day as religiously significant, the symbolic meaning of this time of year is universally understood. It is spring and evidence of rebirth and rejuvenation abounds. Nature's brilliant palette begins to burst forth; the air is refreshed with the return of warmer weather; and we are ready to emerge from the winter months with renewed energy.

Traditionally Easter is a holiday at which time gifts are exchanged. We give flowers, candies, chocolates and colorful eggs. A large meal shared with our closest friends and family often caps off the day. When we enjoy such gatherings we are reminded of the deep connections we share with one another. We take this time also to include people who are new to town and might not have a place to share a special meal. We express our feelings of gratitude, joy and love through the exchange of greeting cards and toasts around the dinner table.

I found myself surrounded by some very close friends recently and am looking forward to spending Easter this year with old friends and family members whom I see far too infrequently. I began thinking about why these people mean so much to me and why I decided to drive for 12 hours to be with some of them. The common denominator which came to mind was generosity. Some people have given thoughtful gifts; some have been open minded and available to listen at a moment's notice; others have displayed a generosity of spirit. I have been the lucky recipient of their gifts; however, I have also been equally as uplifted by watching the consistency of their generosity with everyone else in their lives. These special people are some of my mentors and that justifies the drive.

There are many different interpretations of generosity. However we define it, practicing it in whatever way we can makes us feel good. Perhaps we enjoy volunteering our time visiting our friends who are housebound for whatever reason. We could offer to go grocery shopping, recycle their bottles and cans, rake their leaves, or pick up their mail. These simple acts are a very effective way to show our love, appreciation, and respect for one another. Taking people for a ride in your car on a bright sunny day is another act of kindness that is usually appreciated. It affords time for people to get some sunshine and fresh air, see new sites, and engage in conversation. People who live alone love these short day trips.

Children also enjoy and benefit from any time we can share with them. We are their teachers and they regards much of what we do as acceptable and correct. Being a role model for a child is a big responsibility. We are often role models without knowing it and our behavior is always under someone's watchful gaze. How many time have you ever been 'busted' doing something you might regret? In our minds we experience a little disappointment because we know we've done something that we would not want children to interpret as okay behavior.

One of the things people tend to remember the most are the 'firsts' in their lives: the first time they rode their bike without training wheels; their first great sports accomplishment; their first kiss; losing their first close friend or pet. The people who are with them during these meaningful times can be significant during celebrations and times of grief. Being empathetic to another person's situation is an act of generosity which is a true gift. Our willingness to sit with someone, to hug someone, to cry tears of sorrow and to scream cheers of joy is perhaps the most meaningful way we can show our friendship and generosity.

Being aware of how much we share our generosity is important. In a world where gratitude can be sadly lacking, looking in the mirror and knowing that we have put someone else's needs and feelings ahead of our own is very fertile ground for gratitude. We too often forget to acknowledge our own good fortune found in the opportunities we have to perform random acts of kindness; to drop something we're doing to help someone with an urgent problem; or to pick up the telephone to check in with a relative or friend. Take a moment to think of all the ways you are already generous. It might surprise you and encourage you to do even more. You'll feel even better about yourself and the world will be a better place.

Maybe this is the time of year to begin fulfilling that New Years resolution of being a better friend, staying in closer touch with family, and volunteering in your community. These are all generous acts which give us more respect for ourselves for for others.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Royal Wedding

Few historical events hold my attention like a royal wedding. I can remember the very first one I watched on a small scratchy black and white television. HRH Princess Margaret was married to photographer Antony Armstrong Jones. On May 6,1960 this was the first royal wedding ever broadcast on television and was widely viewed by millions of people around the world. I was immediately attracted to the pomp and ceremony and have never looked back. As a result of my interest in the royal family and the protocol surrounding important events, I have watched with great interest many such televised ceremonies including weddings, funerals, the opening of Parliament, and the Trooping of the Colour.

I have been asked a number of detailed questions surrounding this wedding and in my research, have discovered a number of fascinating bits of trivia as well as an alarming amount of misinformation. Hopefully I will reveal some of the former and not contribute further to the latter. I am fortunate to have a very well informed colleague, William Hanson, a tutor at The English Manner and regular social commentator on BBC Radio who has assisted me from "across the pond" to verify certain facts.

I have also had the pleasure of meeting members of several royal families and as a result have been prompted on a number of do's and don'ts. Not only are the British royals a kind and considerate family, they are fun-loving, generous of time and spirit, unstintingly philanthropic, and very original in spite of being the bastions of tradition.

The impending marriage of HRH Prince William of Wales to Miss Catherine Middleton promises to be a beautiful and historic wedding. There are a number of interesting traditions which this wedding will include:

-The gold for Kate's ring, for example, comes from a nugget mined in a Dolgellau, North Wales gold mine, a custom dating back to 1923.

-The flowers in her bouquet will likely be white and with a sprig of myrtle from a shrub planted by Queen Victoria after her wedding.

-The bouquet will be left at Westminster Abbey at the grave of the Unknown Warrior, a custom first adopted by the late Queen Mother.

-Prince William will be wearing a military uniform as did his father and grandfather .

Breaking from tradition, there will be an element of flexibility exhibited. Such signs of a more modern monarchy began in earnest with the late Princess Diana. For example, she felt it was important for her sons to carry money, something the royal family never did; and to experience more closely things which the general public enjoys.

Breaks from tradition will include:

-Prince William has decided as a personal preference on not wearing a wedding band.

-The bridal party will include two three-year olds as well as a maid of honor (very untraditional)

-Prince William's brother, Prince Harry, will be best man and make a best man speech(another first)

-Catherine and her father will arrive at Westminster Abbey in the Queen's Rolls Royce Phantom, as it has large windows through which onlookers get the best view. Customarily a horse drawn carriage was used.

-The ceremony itself will begin at 11 am. and will be followed by a buffet style wedding breakfast hosted by Her Majesty.

There will be two wedding cakes; one being the traditional fruit cake; the other a groom's cake made of tea biscuits and chocolate(a favorite of Prince William).

-There will be a public kiss on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.

-A dinner dance hosted by the Prince of Wales will follow later in the evening.

-Gentlemen have the choice of three types are acceptable attire: military uniforms, morning dress(single-breasted coats with tails), or lounge suits(business suits). Ladies will wear dresses, gloves, and hats.

Part of the magic of a wedding of this magnitude is the mystery in which so many details are shrouded. As with any wedding, we want to be awestruck by the bride's beauty. Catherine, as she wishes to be referred, will not disappoint. Which branch of the military William will represent has not been disclosed. He has served in three.

Once married, Her Majesty will announce what titles the couple will assume. They will most likely be given titles of Duke and Duchess. There are several possibilities. The destination for the couple's honeymoon is under total wraps, although a warm climate has been indicated.

There will of course be a plethora of souvenirs which enables everyone to have a memento of this extraordinary day. The Royal Canadian mint for one has just unveiled two collector coins to go on sale April 29th. A 25 cent piece that depicts the royal couple and a Canadian 20 dollar pure silver coin that features a sapphire colored crystal enhancement symbolizing the engagement ring given to Catherine by William.

I wish the couple all the best for their future lives together; for the longevity of the monarchy; and for the continued positive impact the royal family has on Canada.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Election Etiquette

I recall my very first election. I was 14 years old and away from home at a school where I knew very few people. My classmates and I had to elect our class president. Each of us gave serious thought to this serious decision and responsibility. Needless to say, we did not all vote for the same person, but we did all vote. And after the ballots were tallied we unanimously supported the winning person as though we each had voted for him. That was an illustration of democracy at work successfully. This person went on to be class president for the next four years as well. There were no campaigns, no promises of reform, and no twisted arms. This guy won the election every year because we knew in our hearts that if a key decision needed to be made, he would make his choice because it was best for the class as a whole and not for any personal agenda he may have had.

I also remember supporting public candidates, even before I was old enough to vote. Learning to weigh the pros and cons of a platform was all a part of growing up. When I reached voting age, I made sure I was registered and that I voted. If I felt that if an elected official I had voted for let the team down by breaking a campaign promise, I had a right to challenge him or her. I was always puzzled by those people who gave up their right to vote because they didn't think it would matter anyway. Yet they still felt they had a right to complain any time something an elected official did or didn't do offended them. This behavior is very disrespectful of the democratic process.

An election has been called for early May. I hope people will take a moment to be grateful for the country in which we live and for the democratic principles which guide us. Not everyone in the world is this fortunate. Taking the privilege of voting for granted and discarding it as unimportant reveals a lot about people. One of the clearest things it reveals is how frustrated many of us become when what we believe being right is more important than being understanding, respectful and compassionate. If the person carrying our banner is criticized unjustly (part of the political process), we too often choose to fold our tents and throw up our arms in despair. We do not seem to want to take the time or make the effort to constructively defend our candidate. And then we scratch our heads and blame the system anytime things seem to go wrong or not in a direction that we prefer.

Our democratic process demands our respect and our participation. Every vote counts. If you believe in the principles of a party that is unlikely to win, vote for that party's candidate anyway. This is the magic and real value of the system and it is also its Achilles' heel. The number one job of a candidate on the campaign trail is to persuade their constituents to get out and vote. Whichever candidate does the best job at this, wins more often than not. The more people who vote, the more the democratic process demonstrates that it is working.

Naturally, prior to every election there are debates between the candidates. There are also discussions by the voters that result from these debates. These discussions can turn into heated arguments in a flash. As I mentioned earlier the reason for this is that the need for people to be right is a priority. I have found that by listening to all of the opinions which people have, I can more easily make a reasoned decision of my own. There is no need to raise one's voice. I have also noticed that people who raise their voices first, usually have the weakest arguments.

It is time to resurrect civility as part of the political process. By respecting one another's opinions, we can far more easily choose who and what is best for our communities. I am ashamed of most politicians today. They are elected to be our leaders and to set a good example for all of us. Not only do they demonstrate unkind, mean-spirited, and disrespectful behavior; they would have us believe that this sort of behavior is acceptable and in fact appropriate. It is not. I encourage voters to go to the poles and vote for the people they believe in. To hear someone state that they won't vote because they will only vote for who is going to win or no one at all is juvenile. It also sabotages our system. Well, you can't win if you don't play. And if you don't play, you have no business complaining when things don't go your way. There is no more important time to have respect and gratitude for the system that so many brave souls gave their lives for so we can live in the comfort and privilege of a free society. Voting ensures our freedom.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Etiquette of the First Date

I remember vividly the first time I asked someone to go out on a date. I hadn't been able to muster up the courage to make such an invitation until I knew that I had a fun evening planned which could more than make up for any perceived self inadequacies I might have had. I was just 17 and my date was a girl I had known since early childhood, when I really did not like her at all. It's amazing how children begin to turn into adults, grow up, and appreciate those things which we most feared. My intention on this date was to have an enjoyable evening with a nice girl, with no designs on anything else including another date. And that's just what happened. We enjoyed dinner and a show with friends and went on our separate ways.

Since then I have come to realize that first dates are not always that easy. We complicate things with anticipation, agendas, and intentions. I have recently been asked a number of questions about first dates. The most burning question not surprisingly has been about finances. Who pays the tab on the first date? The most traditional dates usually involved a man asking a woman on a date. This is very straight forward. The man pays, always, with no exceptions. As with any meal, the person who issues the invitation is the one who pays.

However, many first dates are not traditional and the guidelines of etiquette need to be more flexible. Perhaps a first date is simply a get together for coffee. Perhaps it is a date with a member of the same sex. Today it is not unusual for a woman to ask a man out for a first date. But in all of these cases, one person invites another and therefore is responsible for the bill. Subsequent dates are another matter because such meetings and who will pay can be decided mutually.

I would have never allowed a woman to pay for me, but times have changed. Women want to share financial responsibility, as is appropriate, and I have learned how to graciously accept their kind invitations. But it wasn't easy breaking old habits. My advice on any matters involving money, is to discuss them well ahead of time if there is any question at all. I would suggest that if the date is a simple one, such as coffee or a movie, perhaps alternating who pays is a good solution. On dinner dates, decide before you even make the reservation, who will pay. If you decide to split the bill, be sure to let the waiter know before you order. I advise against this however as it does not introduce any element of gratitude or generosity into the evening. Both of these ingredients are essential to any long term relationship.

Not all dates lead to a long term relationship however, and inviting someone out casually to a fun concert or event is a great way to say thank you for some past kindness. It is also a great way to strengthen a platonic friendship. Initiating a social outing is a fun way to break out of the work week. However, do be prepared for the occasional regret. Your schedule and your friend's won't always jive. Don't take it personally and don't demand an explanation. When you do ask someone to join you, make it clear that they will be your guest. More likely than not, they will reciprocate the invitation.

First dates are excellent times to make good impressions. You may even be meeting your date's parents for the first time. I advise people to wear clean clothes appropriate to the venue they will be visiting. Be freshly bathed and coifed. Brush your teeth and use a breath freshener. Don't talk too much about yourself. Find out as much as you can about what your date enjoys doing when not working or going to school. What books do they read; what music do they listen to; what movies do they watch? Steer away from controversial topics such as religious or political views until you have gotten to know the person a bit.

Before long, you will both have decided if you want to further your friendship or not. Have compassion for yourself and for your date if it becomes clear that you are not really compatible. Parting as friends eliminates any negative feelings either of you may have about one another. Compassion will be a strength in any ongoing relationship as well. Be sure to put the other person's feelings ahead of your own. This is a good rule of thumb for first dates and for any other first meetings for that matter. Treat one another with respect and kindness and your first date will be one you will remember.