The kindness of etiquette

If the name "Miss Manners" is familiar to you, that says something about your interests. And possibly, your age. And my age, for that matter. No matter. Here's a little background, in case Miss Manners is new to you.

Decades ago, Judith Martin wrote a popular syndicated column under the name "Miss Manners." Her topic was etiquette. She offered advice on how to behave in a variety of situations.

Fast-forward to today, where we see appeals to "Be Kind." They've shown up a lot in recent years, presumably because incidents of unkindness have been so common. Disagreements can breed unkindness, if we let them. Whether we are looking backwards, forward, or at events happening right now, we can find plenty of opportunity to disagree.

Thus, the pleas to be kind. But what does "being kind" mean? I've learned that different people glean very different interpretations from statements that we might have thought were straightforward. What does kindness look like?

This leads me back to Miss Manners, whose etiquette advice appears to spring from a foundation of kindness. In society, we have, and will always have, people of very different backgrounds, levels of wealth, relationship situations, and viewpoints. Even though we may be quite different, manners (kindness) can help us interact reasonably well. Being able to get along in a functional way makes all of our lives better.

Abiding by good manners requires that we consciously choose our behaviour. For example, a mannerly approach doesn't let the first rude thing that we think of fly out of our mouths. Instead, we slow down and choose what to say. Choice theory suggests that we don't need to be ruled by the belief that our feelings control us; we "can" help it.

One phrase of Miss Manners is, "There is a time and a place..." For example, there is a time and a place to express a disagreement, but that's not every time nor every place. What might be fine and helpful to discuss with your friends is perhaps not helpful to express at work or to a stranger. In fact, it may be unkind to do so.

You might be thinking, "But, you've written columns about problems of people-pleasing! And that includes suggestions to not be so concerned about what others think. Are you now saying the opposite?"

I think not. Miss Manners is clear about handling those who might be inclined to take advantage of our kindness and good manners. Her suggested phrases such as, "No, I simply can't" or, "I'm afraid I must have that money back" indicate that being polite and mannerly doesn't mean that we must allow someone to take advantage of us.

So, what does kindness look like? What would a kind society look like? Is it where respect and good will are demonstrated? Where taking offense, threatening and blaming are not the go-to responses to differences? Where disagreements are handled through calm discussion?

That sounds a lot like the caring habits that are promoted in Choice Theory. Or, put a different way, as what was once referred to as "good manners:" consideration; respect, and so on.

It's not terribly difficult to be kind to the people we like and agree with. It can require considerably more effort to be kind to people we dislike or disagree with. But it's in those situations where manners, and kindness, really count.

What do you think kindness looks like? Let me know at choices@focusonclarity.com or by mail c/o Progress Bulletin.

To your choices! ~ Susanne ~

Susanne Beck, RTC is Reality Therapy Certified by the William Glasser Institute

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