Happy Birthday America!

I am posting this as a birthday wish. I wish we could treat everyone equally, with respect, with dignity, and with courtesy. Every day.  This young woman illustrates the best in us.  Blind and developmentally disabled – she soars – and becomes the most able. There is hope, but we have to – we MUST – work at it. Happy Birthday everyone, love and light to all!

The Lost Arts: Courtesy, Etiquette, & Apology

“Etiquette: is a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group.
Courtesy: The showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behavior toward others. A polite speech or action, esp. one required by convention. Synonyms:
politeness – civility – comity – urbanity – mannerliness
Apology: an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.
Definitions courtesy Merriam Webster and WikiDictionary.
So why do I think these are lost arts, especially here in the US today? Where do I start? Etiquette changes with the times, to be sure; but underneath the fluid exterior lies the structure of good manners – courtesy, if you will. Remember please and thank you? Remember I’m sorry?
Thank you…. I recall the days where actual thank you notes – on real paper and mailed with an actual stamp-were expected, and done when a gift was given. My parents insisted my sister and I even write them for our Christmas gifts. Nowadays, it’s rarely done, and certainly not with a handwritten note. A quick email acknowledgment or a Facebook message to the giver-if they’re lucky. All very impersonal in the age of the Internet. I actually had to remind a family member to write thank you notes after a significant event wherein gifts were given last year. Said family member seemed slightly surprised that an email thank you was insufficient. (actual notes were sent, btw). While I agree that email and instant messages are convenient, I submit that true appreciation is best conveyed via a handwritten card, note or letter. These tell the giver that the person values their thoughtfulness, because of the time it takes to write and mail a real response. Society moves at warp speed these days, it’s quicker and easier to shoot off an email and then it’s “on to the next”. But it’s rather impersonal. There was a formula to writing a thank you note, if I recall correctly, and it went something like this:
Dear Aunt June,
Thank you for the fuzzy bunny slippers you got me for Christmas. Pink is my favorite color and they keep my feet really warm. I’ll be wearing them a lot this winter I’m sure. Thank you for thinking of me.
Sincerely, Donna
The key, my mom said, was first to say thanks, name the gift, describe how you are going to use it and why you like it, and then say thanks again. Simple and direct, yup. A polite lie, possibly. But a socially acceptable and encouraged one. After all, no damage done. Feelings only got hurt if the thank you wasn’t sent. And believe me, people used to keep track. Those of us over 50 probably still do.
My parents were also sticklers for identifying oneself on the phone when calling someone. ( Hi Mrs Butler This is Donna. May I speak to Gerard please? 😉 ). Of course, with cell phones it’s usually the person you want to speak with that answers, and caller ID tells you who’s on the line before you even pick up, but I must admit it would be nice for me to hear any of my girls’ friends say hi and identify themselves should I happen to pick up the phone. And “please”? At best in most conversations please is tacked on at the end, almost as an afterthought.
And so we come to apologies. Why is it so damned difficult to say “I’m sorry”, and mean it? People need to understand the difference between feeling badly about hurting or offending someone; and being sorry for the actual action or deed that caused the hurt or offense. What you are apologizing for is not the result of your misdeed but the deed itself.
The apology should be worded to reflect that, in my opinion. It should also at least imply the awareness of having given offense, & acceptance of the responsibility for the action.
There is a huge difference between “I’m sorry what I said offended you”, and “I’m sorry I said (state what you said), I realize that must have been incredibly hurtful and I should have known better. Please accept my apology/forgive me”. The first example is typical of what we hear for apologies today. But it is relatively meaningless. The person is basically saying they’re sorry the other person is offended, not that they’re sorry they said or did something hurtful or offensive. It’s passive aggressive, and gives the appearance of shifting the blame to the other person by implying that the person on the receiving end of the comment or action is somehow at fault for being hurt or offended in the first place. No responsibility is taken by the wrongdoer as it is also heavily implied its not their fault if what they’ve said or done is offensive. Guess what? It totally is your fault if you can’t be tactful and kind in your interactions with others.
The second apology is the mature one. It shows the offender knows exactly what they did, acknowledges that it adversely affected the other person, and asks for forgiveness.
And let us not forget that a meaningful apology NEVER EVER has the word “but” after the “I’m sorry”. (ie: I’m sorry I did y, but if you hadn’t done x I wouldn’t have reacted that way). Grownups should remember that no one can make you act or react in any certain way. We are, or should be,  in control of our own actions. No one is responsible for you but you. Blaming another for your missteps is sooo kindergarten. So, the “but” after the apology completely negates the apology. I guess the short version of this would be: Don’t waste my time apologizing to me if you’re going to blame me for causing your bad behavior.
Who’s to blame for all this lack of proper social etiquette? We are. The 40-60 something’s who had all the “Trophy Kids” (the ones who got the trophies and awards just for showing up). We didn’t want to bruise their egos or damage their fragile self-esteem. So we shaped our children into self-centered, egotistic individuals who expect to be rewarded just because they show up, and who take little or no responsibility for their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault. For example, I read an article online about this young man who got a really great job with an advertising firm. He missed a vital project deadline. Instead of accepting responsibility for his mistake he told his supervisor “you should have reminded me”. Closer to home, who of us hasn’t been on the receiving end of this conversation when the teenager misses the bus for school?: “why didn’t you wake me up?” And thank you notes? Why should kids have to write them? Why say thanks when the gift is expected? Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. We need to remember its our responsibility to acknowledge others and make them feel special. It’s not about me, it’s about us. We’ve forgotten that, and I’m not sure how we get back to where we need to, and used to, be.