The other day, a young woman with whom I have a business arrangement referred to me as “sweet.” The word has been applied to me before and each time I blanche at the description. Believe me, gentle reader, I am anything but sweet. I take no offense at the word. I simply have no wish to fly under false colors. Why would anyone see me as sweet — a woman who bummed around the world for a number of years, headed a labor union and knocked heads with opponents as a politician? I am at a loss to account for it. Happily, I read the latest “Manners and Misdemeanors” column by Dwight Garner in Town&Country the other day and got an inkling. (“M&M,” by Dwight Garner, Town&Country, 5/7 2013 pgs. 86-88)
Put simply, he helped me to see that in some people’s minds there is a confusion between being sweet and being courteous. Sweet is the quality of being endearing. Courtesy is an egalitarian way of showing respect to someone else, regardless of any difference of opinion.
Courtesy cannot always rule, of course. Saying “Tut tut” to Hitler as he shoved people into ovens, would be an incorrect response. But in the main, courtesy acknowledges that reasonable minds can differ without the need for an a AK47 to resolve the disagreement. It allows combatants to disengage while leaving room for reconciliation at some other time. Or, in the interest of sanity, it saves the voice from the ravages of excessive shouting.
I am old enough to acknowledge the importance of being charitable to others. Each of us, being flawed, shouldn’t waste time defrocking acquaintances of their humanity because of a difference of opinion. Courtesy neither agrees no disagrees. It merely says, as Garner points out, that “I recognize you as human.” Some might charge that courtesy used in this way keeps relationships shallow because it avoids clearing the air. I confess it’s true. Sometimes civility is the best I can manage, which proves I’m far from sweet.
(Courtesy of logiicmgmt.com)