Often we’re rushing around so much that we become incredibly intolerant of others. Time has become a measurement of how much needs to get done, and life is a daily race. Sadly, many of us live under the illusion that when we reach the finishing line we will feel relief.
This becomes a daily ritual which in and of itself causes a great deal of stress and leaves us frustrated and unable to connect in a civilized manner. The irony of this mindset is that the very opposite is true.
If we slow down and take the time to be polite and considerate, we actually have more respect for ourselves. When we act more humane, our minds and bodies are freer to be more present and focused, therefore, we are more productive.
As a child, my grandmother spent hours teaching me manners. My mother worked, and so it became grandma’s responsibility to create her ideal, a dignified, gracious human being. Anything else would not be tolerated and if she witnessed anything less, she would repeat over and over that I was acting like an animal.
“Don’t chew with your mouth open,”
“Put your fork down when you’re not eating,”
“Think before you speak,”
These instructions, plus many more, had a dual purpose: They helped me function better in society, and they were a source of pride for her.
To my grandmother, there was no greater sin than being ill-mannered. It brought disgrace upon her good name. For that she reserved the ultimate punishment-silence. Silence from an elderly Sicilian grandmother can be compared to life imprisonment. An entire act accompanied the silence-great big sighs, heavy walking while she prayed for your soul, and hand gestures similar to what the Roman emperors gave to those that were about to die.
Finally my grandfather would intercede by yelling “Basta” (enough). He was the only one who could end the punishment, aside from God.
Human survival is dependent on healthy relating. The process of people interacting requires understanding, kindness, consideration, compassion and acknowledgment—-which is what manners are all about.
The poet William Blake sums it up beautifully: “Everything that lives, Lives not alone, Nor for itself.”
Loretta LaRoche writes the Get A Life column for the Patriot Ledger.