WHAT ARE MANNERS? You might want to compare them to the sweet frosting that covers a very plain, badly made crooked cake cooked by an amateur baker. That lousy cake is the essential, basic human mode of being. We're all amateurs when it comes to baking nice relationships and living life in a fine crumb, elegant mode so we all need a lot of FROSTING. i.e. a thick lubrication of buttery, sweet manners to put on top.
While putting frosting on cakes is automatic, manners are not. Mothers teach us manners by rapping our knuckles for years on end. GOOD mothers do, -- that is. You know the routines you must learn "Take grandpa's hand and shake it, firm grip while you smile up at him and you say 'Hi grandpa, we missed you. Then take Grandma's hand very delicately, and put your cheek up to grandma so that she can kiss it. I won't make you curtsey but that is what folks did in her day. You only do this with grandparents. The rest of humanity a simple finger tip handshake will do. Got it, kid? " "Yes, Momma," you answered and you did it the way momma told you..
At dinner parties, Mom told you to always say good bye to the host and hostess and always bring up something you loved, the food, the piñata, the garden. SOMETHING. And "MAKE IT REAL" Mom said. Select something and use it. She was on the verge of admitting to you that yes, it was an acting lesson, an acting chore, Stanislavsky called it...but she never went that far.
The best manners do not provene from MOM's programming. Nor are the best manners a rehearsed, remembered horse and pony show you remember by rote and perform.
Manners are a kindly protection FOR OTHERS from our own abrasive selves. MANNERS are like car bumpers or air bags -- much needed where a lot of fast moving people are hurtling through life headed at one another. Manners are the conditioned responses that we pull out at the intersection crash moments like air bags -- they are also shock absorbers, part of all moments with friends and relatives giving a smooth ride. But most of all, they are like car BUMPERS. When we do crash into one another they absorb the shock and nobody gets hurt.
Because people do get hurt in relationships. A single run in with a friend at the supermarket can be a cataclysm that starts you off on days of depression. No matter how much slack I cut that old friend who gave me the cold eye, it hurts. I know that they have the same problem we all have. It's hard being super glad every time you bump into someone you know. But we can't go around hurting one another and triggering depressions. MANNERS hide the automatic distance that people have. They absorb the shock. Unless we're living alone full time, we are not always madly glad to run into an old school chum at the market. Our first thoughts are gad, I'm a mess. Gad, I've aged and she hasn't. So our faces are covered with HORROR. How do we FAKE GLAD? You're mortified. How do you interact with your most unpleasant relatives on a holiday? You can barely summon the words. Or acquaintances you sort of DO NOT REALLY KNOW...You met them once or twice. You bump into
them out of nowhere, they catch you off guard. There's no love there. There's no way to fake interest or charm. WHAT DO WE DO? Be natural? That is the worst choice. We can't see ourselves, see what's on our own face we cannot see the glazed look of disinterest in our own eye.. boredom An almost audible "OH NOOOOOooo." seems to emanate from our expression. We cannot see OUR OWN struggle to be charming, polite as beads of sweat break out on our brows. but it's obvious to them.
And when that happens, it hurts. SO HAVE SOME PITY. MANNERS are the Christian way of NOT HURTING ANOTHER person. Without them, it is too obvious that we are not particularly connected to them, not very glad to see them even if we say that we are. Faces give us away. And even if they don't, our aura, our eyes jerking back and forth seems to whisper 'she hates me,' we don't. We're just trying to think of something to say.
Not to imply there isn't at times, a deep permanent GRRRRR in the adult human psyche. Our REAL SELF ... our perturbed self shows through. You can pull out a clever word, a smile, sometimes that doesn't work. We look at you and sense that you just pulled up the shades and shut the door in our faces so that we'd only see the bright new paint and not see what was really going on inside. This looks fake. Smells Manufactured. IT ALL SHOWS. MANNERS or what manners seems to mean, is FAKE IT BETTER!
OUT OF CONCERN FOR YOUR VICTIMS develop an instant reflexive "summoning up" of all the joy you can grab.. That mannerly LIE is all we have. The right LOOK must appear on your face. FOCUSED EYES THAT DO NOT MOVE, or jerk around. A BRIGHT glad SMILE. The right, effusive words must be heard, a joyously uttered 'look who's here!' and a sense of excitement, that you just realized that NOW your DAY IS MADE IN THE SHADE, fun is coming. WHAT fun can we do? What adventure can we go on? If you think that there is NOTHING we two could ever do together, and you have that thought at this very moment, then It's hard to FAKE the bright eye, the perky voice. But make an effort.
Next time you run into an acquaintance or get a phone call from a friend greet them gladly and do it out of compassion, not toes on some line your Mother decreed they be on.. Don't let all kinds of your own mood garbage hang out. It only gets interpreted as 'she doesn't like me, she obviously doesn't like me.' And that can trigger immense distress And hey, You didn't really mean that. You were just having a jagged day but
now, for life, that relationship is damaged cuz you HURT them. Their feelings are bruised.
So you have to have an instant response of gladness which you may not feel. MANNERS are about exaggerating that gladness. ACT the part. Assume the pose and ACT mannerly.
Now, there are other fillips to manners or books by Miss Manners, Emily Post, Amy Vanderbilt wouldn't have been written. Intricate traditions are laid into children if their mothers have time. Today's mothers don't so you have to go to the library and get them all.
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