A Kinder, More Gentle Journey

Whenever I am on a flight, I find it interesting that when the flight attendants are delivering the pre-flight instructions, they always suggest to “take care of your own oxygen mask first, before assisting others”. As an analogy on life, I think it is a great one. I don’t think anyone will disagree that you need to look after your own interests first, but I think as a society we are losing sight of our friends’ oxygen masks!

One of the TV personalities I genuinely enjoy and admire is Tim Gunn, the mentor for the designers on “Project Runway”. I have always thought that he had a solid balance of gentlemanly cool, kindness, tact and diplomacy (while still being able to tell it like it is), qualities that I am continuously working to refine. I am almost finished reading Mr. Gunn’s book “Gunn’s Golden Rules – Life’s Little Lessons for Making it Work” and am even more captivated by his perspective on life because it truly resonates with me.

In his book, he provides tips and hints for “making it work” (his catch phrase on Project Runway) in all disciplines of life. Where he really struck a chord with me is his questioning of where good manners, kindness and respect have seemingly gone out of fashion.

I don’t think my parents and family spent a ridiculous amount of time in my childhood drilling the importance of “please”, “thank you” and respecting my elders. Things like shaking the hand of a grown-up always made me feel like a grown-up when I was being indoctrinated into such gentlemanly rituals, and I gobbled up all such learning opportunities they provided on my quest to becoming a young gentleman.

I do remember that before we went out, there was always a short “briefing” about how I should behave in this setting, which I think went a long way in establishing parameters and ways to behave, where and when appropriate. Sometimes they were followed up afterwards with a few footnotes of positive reinforcement or pointing out where I could do better next time. Knowing from such a young age that such distinctions existed made it a given in adult life and – I would like to think – show the respect we have for our peers in social settings.

I am not suggesting we all need to stand around in tuxedos, sipping tea, speaking in “Downton Abbey” dialects, but rather that day-to-day social graces like holding a door open, waiting one’s turn, waiting until people get off an elevator or public transit before storming in, should not be the abnormality. I don’t know of anyone who dislikes or disapproves of basic good manners, so why is it such a discouraging exception?

I find it interesting when random acts of kindness make the headlines. Shouldn’t a kind and gentle society be engaging in these all the time to such an extent that it shouldn’t make the news.  I am certain that there are a combination of factors and perceptions that suggest why that is, maybe it is a perception of a sign of weakness rather than alpha dominance in a dog-eat-dog world, perhaps it is just forgetfulness with no follow-up coaching on common sense, or perhaps have good manners really gone out of fashion?

In any case, I don’t think it is too steep of a price to pay respect to a total stranger by offering a smile, a nod and a “Good morning” when the occasion presents itself, or to say politely and gently “Excuse me” when someone runs into me with a grocery cart, in the hopes that it generates a reminder to people that they weren’t in fact raised in a barn. It may sound a bit of a Pollyanna perspective on things but I’d like to think that the positive energy of respect, honour, grace and generosity of spirit is contagious. If good manners really did go out of style, I would like to think that the tide could turn and they could come back in style… as most fashions eventually do!

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