Synonyms for the word ETIQUETTE include: polite behavior, good manners and decorum. Or my favorite: common courtesy.
So when a newly elected Democratic Congresswoman publicly calls the President of the United States a curse word I won’t use in this blog, and gets cheered by her audience … and the President describes several African nations with a scatological word I also won’t use, but which most in his Party excused …… I could go on and on.
Instead I’ll ask: where’s the decorum? The manners? Is this how our mothers and fathers guided and raised us? Have we become inured to gaucheness, boorishness and incivility? “People still expect a certain amount of formality in public,” Princeton University history professor Julian Zelizer says. Yes we do.
It’s so easy to be polite and exhibit common courtesy. To hold the door open for the person walking behind you when entering the post office. To put your iPhone away during dinner — and not just on your lap. To cover your mouth when you cough and say God Bless You when someone sneezes. To say thank you to the beleaguered TSA agent who helps lift your carry-on suitcase into the plastic tray. To take your baseball caps off, gentlemen, when you are inside the house. To count to 10 before exploding at the indecipherable-but-trying-hard-to-help-you computer guy somewhere deep in India. I could go on and on.
Being courteous is not heavy lifting. It doesn’t require a PhD in Politeness. I’ll give you an example.
Our flight to and arrival in Florida a week ago was “testing.” JetBlue left four hours late from Boston’s Logan Airport (“We’re waiting for a part.”). Long afternoon. We finally landed at Palm Beach International Airport around 8:30 on New Year’s Eve. When we boarded the shuttle bus to Long Term Parking, Mr. Wonderful looked at me and said, “Almost there. Just hope the car starts.”
The shuttle bus driver said, “I’ll send someone out with jumper cables immediately.” Willy, the PBIA specialist on dead batteries, showed up within five minutes. He tried his best but couldn’t rouse our Honda van. We called Triple-A. A young man in his early 30s arrived around 10:00, tried a few things and announced, “Sorry, folks, the car is really dead, it needs to be flat-bedded to your dealer. My suggestion — call an Uber.”
As we waited for the Uber, neither Willy nor the Triple A guy left us alone in the otherwise deserted and dark parking lot. “We’re happy to stay with you until we know you’re safely on the way,” they said. Our Uber driver was cheerful, and got us to our nesting place half an hour before the Ball fell in New York City. “Have a great new year,” he said with a smile. Then, when I opened my computer the next morning, JetBlue had sent us an apology and generous rebate “for your inconvenience.”
An unfortunate situation was somewhat mitigated and definitely eased by people who displayed grace, kindness and common courtesy.
So when I recently read these words by poet Sara Teasdale, I discovered my new mantra for 2019, and I hope it will be yours as well. Teasdale wrote in her poem called BARTER…
“Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost.
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost.”