Sunday, January 13, 2013

New Year's Resolutions for a more polite 2013

I like New Year's Resolutions.  My head knows they are doomed to fail but my heart wants to believe that this will be the year I finally see them through to December.  My resolutions usually involve the words "more" or "less" - more excercising, less cheese, more green tea, less coffee, more loving thoughts, less quick judgments.  

I never stick to these resolutions because even though I want the physical results of more exercise and less indulgence, I like the instant gratification of margaritas and Oreos more, plain and simple.  This year, I decided to liberate myself from resolutions I can't and won't keep and focus my goals on etiquette, something I care about and something I can always improve without any major sacrifices.

1. Don't judge people by their affiliations - I will refrain from categorizing people into groups - new age flake, union member, environmental quack, left-wing nutcase, right-wing nutcase, working parent, stay-at-home mom, etc. I will remember that everyone is an individual, no one is defined purely by their situation and everyone has something to offer.

2. Listen more than you talk - Hearing is not listening.  No matter how bored I am, I will resist the urge to interrupt someone just so I don't have to listen to them anymore. When people are talking, I will listen rather than spend my time formulating what I am going to say next. If I need to extricate myself from a conversation, I will let them finish and then politely excuse myself and run to the bar.

3. Learn to say no - When someone asks me to do something I definitely don't want to do and will only regret (and kvetch about) later (e.g. chair their fundraising committee, buy their raffle tickets, organize their bridal shower), I will firmly and politely decline immediately without guilt, ambiguity or remorse and I will try not to give it a second thought or wonder what they think of me.

4. Give people the benefit of the doubt - Have you ever decided someone was horrible the first time you met them?  What if that was the worst day of their whole life and they are actually awesome?  If everyone in my life had met me on the crappiest day of my life, I would have no friends. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but only once or twice :)

5. Don't put mean things in writing - As delicious as it is to gossip or complain about people via email, text or Blackberry messenger, I vow to keep my more salacious comments to an in-person discussion.  Before wielding my electronic sword, I will contemplate how I would feel if it ended up on the Internet.  I could just vow to never say anything unkind ever again but, as I said, I am no longer making resolutions I can't keep.

6. Doublecheck the recipient of every electronic communication before sending - see Resolution #5.

7. Don't ruin a polite gesture with indignation - The next time I hold the door for someone and they breeze right through without a word, I will not yell, "You're welcome!" in a loud, snarky voice.  After all, I held the door open to be kind, not to be rewarded.  But while we're on the topic, would it kill you to say thank you?

8. Keep the Sharpie sheathed - The next time I pass a sign with an egregious grammatical error, I will not pull out my Sharpie and correct it.  Even though I consider it a helpful public service, I have been told by others it is tantamount to vandalism.

9. Help the hapless - When people have loud cell phone conversations in places from which I cannot escape (elevators, buses, cashier lines), I will "help" them become better citizens by pointing out their rudeness in the hopes of saving someone else in the future. I will do this in a kind and educational way, even if they respond to me with profanity, as is so often the case.

And finally, all joking aside, and perhaps the only resolution that matters...

10. Never resist the opportunity to be kind - All day, I'm presented with opportunities to practice random acts of kindness and for some reason, I don't follow through on many of them. I don't move fast enough to hold the elevator door open.  I want to complement someone on their outfit but I am shy and not sure how they will take it.  The person behind me in the grocery store checkout only has one item yet I don't offer to let them go ahead because I don't feel like it.  In 2013, most of all, I want kindness, in all its forms, to be the driving force for all of my actions.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find out what it means to me

I have a special place in my heart for outdoor ice rinks.   In the small Ontario town where I grew up, the local skating rink was a meeting place for tweens and teens from early November right through to March.  With no smartphones or computers, limited use of a landline and few channels on the TV, it just didn't make sense to stay inside when the thrill of outdoor fun was a short drive away.  We were dropped off by parents who knew we would be safe, with just enough money to buy a hot chocolate.  It was where we connected, hung out, gossiped, flirted and, although we didn't realize it, stayed fit and avoided obesity.

The rink of my youth is no longer there.  Warmer winters and fluctuating temperatures make it near impossible to keep a natural rink frozen these days. But an artificial rink has taken its place and with the same rural setting of birches and pines, it looks almost authentic. It's managed by the town and, to make it fair for everyone, hockey players alternate with family skaters every other day.  I took my kids skating there on Christmas Eve, which was designated as a family skating day.

We arrived at the rink to a hockey game in full swing.  Disgruntled parents told me that the hockey players - all teenage boys - had been asked to leave but had refused.  A few adults and older kids were braving it out on the small patch of the ice surface that wasn't absorbed by the hockey game but many families stood on the sidelines, unwilling to risk the wrath of flying pucks. 

After an enthusiastic goalie collided with a young girl, tensions came to a head and a profanity-laced shouting match ensued.  As a visitor from "the big city", I glided into the heart of the hockey game, reminded them that it wasn't a hockey day and asked them to leave.  The biggest of the players, a hulking boy of about 17, looked at me and said, "We just want a little respect". 

I was momentarily stunned as this response was the last thing I expected.  I calmly explained that they weren't respecting the rules of the rink.  He said that they knew this but they still expected to be treated with respect and didn't appreciate being yelled or sworn at and if the families had shown them respect they would have left earlier.  At this, a few of the other hockey players gathered around echoing their leader's sentiments that they are good kids who just wanted a little respect.

My inside voice said, "You don't deserve respect and you certainly haven't earned it," but, in the interest of the end goal and unwilling to appear like an old codger, I smiled sweetly and said, "Well I am asking you respectfully to leave now."  It worked. They packed up and went on their way.

Teenagers behaving badly is nothing new.  Pushing boundaries, breaking the rules, being self-absorbed is part of the teenage DNA and I was the same when I was that age.  The difference is, my friends and I never expected respect and we certainly didn't expect it when we were acting like jerks. We didn't get any respect but we really didn't care.  We had no notion that it was our entitlement and we seemed to get along just fine without it.  Then again, we weren't exposed to reality shows where spoiled, self-absorbed people are celebrated for embarrassing themselves.

30 years later, I still cling to an old-fashioned notion that respect must be earned but I think it dates me.  I asked a 20-something friend about this and he said respect doesn't need to be earned and everyone is worthy of respect until they demonstrate that they don't deserve it, a kind of 'innocent until proven guilty' approach.  This seemed very tolerant and inclusive and characteristic of the millennials but it was hazy to me.

What do you think?  Is it time to shelf the old 'respect should be earned' mantra?