At the dollar store the other day, there was a display of overstocked hard-cover books. I was compelled to part company with a buck for one by British author Lynne Truss. It's called Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. I'd guess most readers of this blog are old enough to imagine the content and align with the sentiment of this little volume.
As for me, it made me think of my upbringing. My parents were all about courtesy and the maintaining of good relations with others through politeness and respect. I recall one particular occasion on which I got to see how my mother practiced what she preached. Let me tell you about it.
My mother was a working woman throughout her life. All of her jobs--whether in sales, personnel, or secretarial capacity--required courtesy, grace under fire, tactfulness, diplomacy and self-control. People skills! And she had them. To her dying day, her public knew her as a gracious, tactful, thoughtful, kind person.
"Honey draws more flies than vinegar" was her philosophy, and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was her mantra. I heard these phrases over and over, throughout my childhood and beyond.
In the heat of daily life, sometimes it's hard to apply the Golden Rule, but I remember the day that I found out how to do it. We were sitting at the kitchen table when the phone, which hung on the wall in this central location of our home, rang. My mother answered it.
On the other end of the line was an angry neighbor, a man obsessed with his shrubbery, apparently. His issue was with our dog, my beloved Speedy, who habitually climbed the chainlink fence to freedom despite the trip-wire my dad had affixed at the top in an effort to contain him. It seems that, whilst on the loose in the neighborhood, Speedy had peed on this man's bush.
My mother, ever the diplomat, remained calm and courteous with the neighbor as he let his temper flare. I really had no idea how she was feeling until the call ended. At that point her public face and pleasant demeanor vanished, and she exclaimed at the hung-up phone, "Oh, pee on your old bald head!"
Although this incident took place almost half a century ago, it remains a crystal-clear moment in my memory, and it still makes me laugh out loud. Moreover, I learned a lot from the incident:
- You can 'do unto others' and say what you really think, but not necessarily at the same time or in the same place.
- Sarcasm is more appropriate among your intimates than with the general public. You don't have to say everything you think to everyone you know.
- You can use humor to defuse your own anger.
- You maintain good relationships with people by considering how they will feel about how you behave, not how you feel about how they behave.
Mom was a wise woman. She understood how important it was to keep peace within the community. Bad blood between her and the old bald head, or between any two members of the community for that matter, would have made social occasions uncomfortable, not only for the two but for everyone. Opinions would have been formed, sides taken, the fabric of community torn to some degree, and in the end everyone would have lost a little something--comfort, trust, goodwill, friendships, or maybe just some fun.
I'm sure I didn't understand all that at the time, but I get it now. And if you're among my intimates, it's possible you've heard me mumble on occasion, "Oh, pee on your old bald head!"... and then laugh out loud.