I grew up in a Southern culture where learning certain relational mores were paramount. As a child, I heard personal friends of my grandmother calling her by her last name. It was the lady thing to do. When I was 13 years old, my mother sent me to a class to learn how to be a lady. While I am certain that holding up my pinky finger with my tea cup is really not necessary to have a happy life, I have learned to appreciate those social skills which were a part of my culture. The mores of politeness have seemed to lessen my isolation.
Today, I live in a world in which a primary way of communicating is through e-mail. While it seems easier to just shoot off an e-mail, it certainly has taken the person out of communicating. Sometimes, the only way I know to communicate how I feel within an e-mail is to create a little smiley face with colons and parentheses. An e-mail seems to be a much easier way to communicate, because it does remove the difficulty of looking at someone in the eye.
As a parent, I want to teach my son how to relate to people. I see that his self sufficiency, interdependence, and emotional well being, will depend upon his skills in relationships. When he was three years old, I remember watching his preschool teacher showing him the basic skills of introducing a newcomer to the playgroup. I realized then that his success in school or overall adjustment to life’s transitions did not depend upon his test scores or IQ. Perhaps, it seemed just as important for him to learn some basic social skills.
• Look at someone in the eye and say “Hello”.
• Say “Thank you” or “Please”.
• Show respect to the elders in the community.
• Make sure a newcomer is introduced into the group.
• Always ask if someone wants to dance. Don’t assume anything.
• Respectfully accept “no” for an answer.
• Ask others, “Can I carry your load?”
I wonder what it would be like if everyone began holding the door open for each other
or reaching out to shake hands. If I could, I really want to imagine that these gestures of common courtesy will begin world peace. And, while this fantasy may seem to outlandish, I think that at the very least, such courtesies will be a simple place to begin a relationship, which then can provide an opportunity for conversation. And who knows where friendly conversation will lead?
I have realized that if I want to be a part of the greater community and out of isolation, it starts by looking at someone and saying, “hello”.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.