~Aretha Franklin (Respect)
Aretha Franklin’s song is a woman’s cry to be treated fairly and properly by her man. This is a reasonable thing to demand. However, for many of us, respect has become more a thing we desire or demand and less of something we give or show. And while we might deserve respect, and perhaps should avoid certain situations due to a lack of it – I wonder if I may be unbalanced in the demand-and-give ratio.
While looking at ways to improve my character, I’ve been thinking about general courtesy, etiquette and social manners. As we become comfortable with our families and social groups, we grow accustom to personalized communication. We begin to understand the intentions of our spouse, parents, children and close friends. We “judge” them differently, more like ourselves, gleaning their intentions rather than just their behavior. And likewise, they often do the same with us.
In our own interactions with them, we often get cut some slack on what would be normal etiquette, just because they know us and know what we meant. And because of that it is easy to become lazy and complacent. It has happened to me.
Fortunately, I have a very mannerly mother-in-law, one who handwrites Thank-You notes and won’t include herself to even a casual event without a direct invitation. She keeps me on my toes. Without reprimand, her habits remind me of how I need to be more respectful to and more courteous of others.
I have been thinking about social interaction and propriety for the past few days. However, an interesting essay on internet debate recently added to my thoughts. It discussed how information is disseminated, almost invasively now, and how the context of its origin is likely lost by the time we read it. Moreover, it pointed out how no one takes the time to consider the perspective of the writer or speaker and we all feel entitled to blast away as if our own opinion has great weight on nearly any subject.
But one point really caught my attention. It was about how we allow social media to blind us to age, office and gender. I tell my daughter not-too-infrequently, “You forget your station, young lady.” However, it is interesting how often I forget mine too, especially in a faceless debate on the internet. I often thrust my point rather than bridge understanding. Many times I do this without considering who the recipient of my wrath may be. Due to our electronic culture, it has become easier to ignore the honor of position and experience. When I forget these important social instruments, I am Ichabod.
Slowing down, listening closer, clarifying the intent and showing respect – these are new goals for me, both online and offline, as I continue to rebuild some parts of my character in need of repair. Even if I vehemently disagree, I can still do so pleasantly. As Winston Churchill said, “When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite.”