This I Believe

Kathleen - Wharton, New Jersey
Entered on January 5, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I fear that America is no longer a gracious county. In fact, graciousness is a word we rarely use anymore. An act marked by kindness, courtesy, charm, good taste, generosity of spirit is how Merriam-Webster defines it. My mother called it good manners.

According to a recent survey, the majority of Americans believe we are ruder now than we were 20 years ago. We argue with our spouses, children and business associates cell phones and Bluetooths to ear, not caring about those around us. We push our way onto and off of elevators. Thrust our way through crowded stores. Ride each other’s bumpers on the highway. Speak in harsh and rough tones.

A friend and I were talking on the phone when she shared a story that seems to sum up what we have lost. She had been traveling across states on her way back to Arizona when she stopped for gas. An elderly man was sitting on a bench, quietly passing the time. He looked up, saw her, smiled and tipped his hat, a gray flannel one with a black ribbon band. “Do you realize,” she said, “how soon such gestures will be completely forgotten, never to be seen or experienced, except in old movies?”

No, I was not raised in an era of white gloves and hats. But even so, I remember a time when graciousness wasn’t such a strange word or act.

In the newspaper, I read a young woman’s letter submitted to an etiquette column. The purpose of her letter: She was looking for a reason not to send a thank you note to her grandparents since she already was a year late in acknowledging their engagement gift. She had time to write the newspaper, but not her grandparents. What a shame. Imagine how delighted her grandparents would have been to find a thank you card in their mail among all the bills. A small act, a thank you, but one that brightens – and can even change – a day, for the receiver and giver alike. Which is why I believe in giving and saying thanks.

As we say thank you, we cannot help but focus on what is good about our life and the blessings of the day. Our minds shift away from the rudeness, hecticness and worries of life to what is fine, worthy and most important. As we do so, we become more appreciative, and, in the process, a more gracious people.