May 26, 2009 at 3:56 pm (About Me) (, , , )

I ended up with a rather busier Memorial Day weekend than I might have wished for myself.  It didn’t leave a whole lot of time for spending on the computer (although some of that was just me avoiding the computer because I wanted a technology break).

I ended up spending a lot of time reading, which was nice.  I poked a bit around my little garden, since more of my plants are blooming now.  I also spent some time just thinking.

I’m pretty sure a lot of people think I’m rigid.  Call it that, or stubborness, or any old thing – it all amounts to about the same thing.  My family especially likes to point this particular trait out to me, usually because they think I’m too rigid (or stubborn or whatever).

The older I get (and I realize I’m still not that old), the more impatient I get with being dismissed that way.  Because in so many ways, it is completely a dismissal.  People think, oh, we don’t need to listen to Mary, because she’s just being stubborn.  She’s not able to be flexible, so she isn’t seeing the world as it really is.  Maybe that viewpoint is sometimes true, but I don’t think it is nearly as often as I’m made to feel it is.

The fact is, the world exists because of rules.  I happen to find those rules pretty fascinating, perhaps because of my interest in history, or perhaps just because.  Every society has their own set of rules, and some societies even codify them.  The most fascinating thing about those rules, really, is the fact that even when people say that they’re outdated and ridiculous, most people still follow a large chunk of them.

So the fact that I know many of these rules (call them etiquette, call them manners, call them society, or anything else) and recognize both their value and their hold on people does not make me rigid.  Wanting to follow them myself does not make me stubborn.  Wanting to preserve a standard that is based on the ideal of a smoothly-operating society does not mean that I will apply that standard rigidly in every case I see.  But when I do apply it rigidly, that doesn’t mean I’m blowing things all out of proportion.

It might very well look as though I take offense at things that I would not have been offended by several years ago (before I actually learned these rules).  But I think what’s really happening is that now I know what I have a right to be offended over, and what I don’t.  So instead of a vague feeling of discomfort a lot of the time, I’m able to brush off things that shouldn’t offend me, and focus my energy on dealing with those things that do.  Ultimately, those rules of society apply just as much to myself as they do to anyone else, if not more so.  They help me figure out what the best course of action is in sticky situations, and come out the other side without pissing off everyone around me or burning any undeserving bridges.

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Miss Manners

February 3, 2009 at 11:44 am (Uncategorized) (, )

Recently, I’ve been reading Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin.  I’d actually been meaning to read this book for some time, but it didn’t occur to me until recently to see if the public library had it.  So I got it on Saturday, and have read probably a quarter of it so far.

It’s a pretty good read.  It’s easy to read a bit and put it down, because it’s very segmented.  And Judith Martin is funny, so it’s pleasant reading.  It certainly beats hanging around on the internet most evenings.  The hardest part about reading the book is that it’s rather heavy, so I have to prop it up on a pillow while I read on the couch.

It’s also been really interesting to think about.  I am, undoubtedly, progressive and liberal.  But I also think that what Judith Martin is trying to do with Miss Manners is extremely important.  Just because society has changed, that doesn’t mean we can throw out every old etiquette rule.  Most of them were created for a real, practical purpose in the past – and many of them are still completely relevant today.

But, and perhaps this is even more to the point, even if I personally didn’t think rules of etiquette were still important, there are undoubtedly a lot of people who do.  For instance, many people would still be a little miffed or even downright offended if someone told them what to get them for their birthday pre-emptively (going back to the rule that you’re not supposed to admit a preference for anything, including wanting presents, unless you are asked, “what do you want for your birthday?” or something similar).

Anyway, it’s been interesting reading this stuff.  I sometimes feel as though it’s like reading an especially well-written manual on correct grammar.  I kind of sort of know all these rules, because I’ve picked up on most of them in part without realizing, but it’s awfully helpful to have someone spell it all out for me.  And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Judith Martin, writing as Miss Manners, has a very amusing way of spelling it out.

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