Who literally knows how to be polite in 2017? We’ve got screens glued to our faces on the constant and can pretty much forgo all human contact for days at a time thanks to apps for everything from ordering food to laundry service (and then, of course, an app to hire a professional cuddler when the loneliness creeps in). That’s the rub of modern convenience: it makes it even more challenging to know how to behave when you’re *actually* around other living people. Kelly Williams Brown, the bestselling author of Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps, knows that having good manners is harder than ever and she says the key is graciousness: “a quality that, at its heart, is the ability to be truly present to the humans around you, braced by a core of strength that is never corroded.” So, how exactly does one stay present and not let modern annoyances destroy us? Brown’s new modern manners handbook Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact, and Unsinkable Strength (Rodale Books, $27) is here to help. Here are nine chic tips for mastering good manners and the art of graciousness right now.
Seriously. Brown says that above all else, you have to practice kindness and she deploys one of Kurt Vonnegut’s best quotes to make that point: “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
Remember this: every other human is also a person
It sounds so basic but Brown insists it takes diligence to remember that every other human is just as human as you are. “It is all too easy to get trapped in our own heads, treating our own mental and emotional sludge as though it is a real thing in the world, a filter through which we judge or ignore everything around us,” Brown writes. “Meanwhile, everyone around us is doing the same damn thing!” Once you get it through your overstuffed skull that we are all humans going through the same sh-t, doing our best and thinking we are the centre of the universe, kindness and empathy gets a whole lot easier.
Always think in terms of “us”
She says to treat every relationship, however brief, as a team—a framework that treats both parties like a unit instead of two “others” with competing needs. That means that if you’re at the rental car counter just trying to leave in a midsize freaking sedan, think about what you can do to satisfy both your needs (like the need to rent a damn car rill quick and not pay a month’s rent for it) and those of the person behind the counter (the need to get you, and the rest of the customers, processed as quickly and efficiently as possible). Brown writes that this is the optimal position to occupy in any human transaction—neither people-pleasing (where you take your needs out of the equation entirely), nor so selfish that you only consider what you want.
Act like an adult human and not a slobbering troll on the Internet with these five rules
-Decide what you need from it every time you sit down: This means always remembering that you are in charge of both the input (what you absorb) and the output (what you are sending out into the digital universe) and that, although there is relatively little we can control in our daily lives, we do control what we read, whom we respond to and how we react. Own this power every day.
-What you say is forever so be ready to stand by it: Your mom probs told you this one but it’s more true than ever. The Internet is eternal so if you might cringe reading that awful tweet in a couple of hours, think about how you’ll feel if it resurfaces in a job interview next year.
-If they don’t have something useful to say, you don’t need to listen: Boy, bye! Brown says to be ruthless with trolls: “Block early and block often!”
-Always watch your hostess: Read the room, so to speak, every time you enter a new online platform so you can observe the tone and vibe before joining the conversation.
-Do not let the Internet control any more of your life than you choose: If it’s making you miserable/mean/jealous, step away.
Stop looking at your damn phone after business hours when you’re with other people
Unless you’re an on-call surgeon, Brown says it’s just straight-up rude to have your phone out (or worse, in your hand) when you’re with other people outside of work hours. She says to excuse yourself to the bathroom if necessary to finish that text or write that Instagram caption and if you know you might be getting a call or an important email during a visit with someone, warn them in advance.
Don’t forget to be gracious to yourself
Brown writes that true graciousness, and the comfort and generosity that comes with it, begins with feeling at home in your own skin which means you have to practice self-acceptance. And before you go and equate self-facing kindness with selfishness, remember that treating yourself well is good for everyone—the kinder you are to yourself, the kinder you will be to others. It’s leading by example.
The best house guests have the lightest footprint
That means, according to Brown, that you should “channel a very friendly ghostliness: you appear at appropriate times, bringing joy, good humour and gifts with you.” So do not arrive unannounced and always bring a thoughtful hostess gift—and positive, appreciative vibes—with you. The gift can be small (e.g. a used book you loved that you think your host will enjoy along with a personal inscription) but even if you’re rethinking whether you love sleeping on a depressed air mattress with a couple slobbering dogs in your face, never, EVER, convey that to your host. Oh, and it’s never your host’s job to entertain you so don’t expect them to have made all your plans and do not, for the love of all polite and sacred, make your host feel an obligation to join you in your social plans. This is a vacay for you, but it’s real life for them and guilt-tripping is never chic.
Be the best host by prioritizing two things: making people feel loved and comfortable.
Remember this easy rule and everything else will follow suit. That doesn’t mean you have to be super-fussy (brand new guest towels! a six-course brunch!) but making small, meaningful gestures—like leaving your guest a note with the WiFi password so they don’t feel weird asking for it—go a long way to making your guest feel cozy and welcome without making you feel resentful.
When in doubt, deploy this magical phrase: “Well, you’ve certainly given me a lot to think about.”
Bust this out to your Blowhard Relative you who thinks Thanksgiving dinner is the perfect time to drill you on your career choices. Have it in your back pocket at the cocktail party when the Random Know-it-All starts talking politics and you literally disagree with everything he says. These fools might really think they are changing your world with their pompous lectures but the less you let them get under your skin, the more power you keep.
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