Sunday, February 26, 2012

Handling Rudeness

There is something very grounding about visiting friends whom you’ve known since early childhood. The bonds formed in our tender early years are galvanized and dependable. We grow up and face our own challenges, go our own different ways, yet somehow when we reconnect, we somehow manage to pick up where we left off, in many cases. I recently had the opportunity to visit with several childhood friends for a wonderful reunion. A small number of close friends and family were getting together for dinner at a private house; food was prepared; all was well. In the end, for one reason or another, only half the people showed up. The other half either called at the last minute with their regrets, or they simply didn’t show up. At the end of the evening, one guest remarked, “This is the rudest community I have ever lived in!” She was nonplussed that people would accept an invitation and then simply not show up or bother to call. I did not disagree, and it gave me pause to think about all the topics I have covered on these pages during the last four years. Yes, I have given good information about what to do in various situations, but I haven’t really addressed how to handle situations that are just plain irretrievably bad.

I have come to the conclusion that most of us face such predicaments from time to time, especially with family and close friends. As with any uncomfortable situation, we are in a quandary as to what to do. Wouldn’t it be nice if we simply had an ‘eject’ button and we could extricate ourselves from unpleasantness? Alas, that isn’t possible. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Don’t fall into the trap of engagement. Just because people all around you may be falling into etiquette quicksand, steer clear.

2. Do be sure to keep your commitments. Why discredit yourself?

3. Planning ahead avoids scheduling conflicts. Avoid the avoidable.

4. Have compassion for those who are taking the whole turn of events so seriously. This too shall pass.

5. Let go of the negative energy produced as a by-product of disrespect. Holding on to it only prolongs the mental anguish.

6. Be respectful of and patient with everyone, even those who are behaving boorishly.

7. Learn from others’ mistakes. There’s no point to growing any older without growing any smarter.

8. Always remember that you never know the whole story. Avoid judging others, no matter how egregious their behavior.

9. After family functions, where children have been exposed to ghastly behavior, be sure to sit down the following day for a debriefing. Otherwise, they will get the message from you that this is an acceptable way to act.

10. Don’t hold grudges. Forgive and forget. If you have experienced emotional pain, pray that no one else needs to. This need be not an eye-for-an-eye world.

I find it is usually best to simply ignore unacceptable behavior and insensitive people. I don’t give a second thought to editing guest lists. If the guilty party offends you personally, draw them aside and speak with them privately. Confronting someone in front of others is a tactic weak people resort to as a way to embarrass them. The results can be cruel and intentionally mean. Consider for a moment that the other person may be dealing with a personal issue. That’s almost always the case.

Friendships require nurturing. That goes for friendships within one’s own family. I know some people who fight within the family unit; but when a real emergency or crisis comes along, they are the staunchest supporters. That’s the real glue that keeps a family together. However, aberrant behavior is not necessary to begin with. Just because you are family or a close friend does not give you a license to be rude.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Politeness Abounds If We Just Let It

I have just been on a very enjoyable road trip visiting friends and family, and managed to squeeze in an overnight trip to New York City to take in Mary Poppins with my good friend William Hanson. He was over from England orchestrating a Guinness World Record for the world’s longest curtsey – which consisted of a chorus line of about 80 men and women executing a curtsey that lasted a full 5 minutes. Just prior to launching off on my train journey from the City of Brotherly Love to the Big Apple, I was informed that New York had been named the rudest city in the entire world by none other than Travel and Leisure Magazine. I quietly thought what a perfect challenge for William and me – two gents making their livelihood consulting on and teaching good manners!

As it turned out, it was no challenge at all! Everyone along the way treated me so nicely. I even thought to myself, “Ain’t life grand!” It all began with a shoeshine man at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia who made me feel as though I were his only and most important concern. Little did he know how important his job is to my life. A well-polished pair of shoes speaks volumes about one’s self-respect. The lady who sold me my train ticket was professional and courteous and smiled as I spoke with her. I naturally smiled back. I was off on the right foot now! I thankfully had a business class seat, which in this day and age means a quiet car! And it was quiet! All of the passengers abided by the rules, far more so than they do in Britain! This enabled me to catch up on correspondence and make reservations for restaurants.

I walked through the hustle and bustle of New York’s Penn Station noticing how seemingly unhurried other passengers were. There wasn’t the anticipated pushing and shoving so common in such places. I walked to the Hotel Lola, a brand new midtown gem and was treated like an old and revered customer. The staff was perfect and even succumbed to my request for free Internet. The room was ready early, allowing me extra time to walk leisurely uptown to meet my lunch date at Michael’s, a great restaurant I was experiencing for the first time. The owner and the manager both greeted me so cordially and made me feel special. Believe me, when you pay $10 for Club Soda, they should! The waiters were great, the food was great, and the lady who dined with me (a native New Yorker whom I had never met before) was enchanting.

Without going into every other detail of my 24-hour whirlwind trip, I will simply say that not one soul spoke a cross word or exhibited any behavior deserving of the moniker “world’s rudest” anything! Naturally I thoroughly enjoyed Mary Poppins, a very good Broadway musical, and the rest of my time spent with my most trusted and enjoyable colleague. Even with delayed trains and pouring rain, all was good!

As I was gratefully wallowing in the warm feelings I had, I began to wonder why the experience was so flawless. I came to the conclusion that perhaps it was because I was nice to all of the people with whom I met or spoke with. I was focused on having a good time and enjoying myself, and they all fell right in step.

This can happen to all of us, most, if not all of the time. So much of our happiness depends upon how we connect with other people. Taking the first step to be cordial and respectful of everyone, whether they are shining my shoes, serving me a meal, or simply engaging in a pleasant conversation, sets the tone for the connections we make. I have noticed when I am rushed and discourteous, that behavior is mirrored back to me with great consistency.

Planning ahead and being well organized goes a long way to ensuring your day goes smoothly. Life is full of surprises. Take for example the fact that I managed to leave my passport and wallet at the hotel, a fact I discovered upon my return to Philadelphia. Keeping focused on a positive outcome (next day FedEx) and not tearing around like beheaded poultry worked wonders.

Staying positive, keeping focused on respecting others, and being grateful for everything others do for you can and does make or break one’s day. At least it does for me. I hope it does for you, too!