Saturday, September 18, 2010

Social Graces

The other day when I went into the grocery store where I scout for discounted specials, one of the employees passed me and commented that I am always in there. I just smiled and walked by because I felt offended that I'd been noticed and I suppose somewhat ashamed that I'm in there daily to try and snatch a deal. But afterward, I thought about my attitude and the next time I saw this woman, I initiated conversation and admitted that I go in almost daily to check out the deals. She replied that her mother always used to do the same. I felt better that I'd counteracted my previous unfriendliness. I've been going to this grocery store for over 10 years - of course, the clerks know me. There is no reason for me to be ungracious or rude. So what if I go in every day to look for specials? The store comes out ahead because of my business. I shouldn't worry about looking odd or feeling ashamed of my shopping strategy. It has been what has putting food on the table for us the past year.

Today, I took my few specials to the checkout lane and was checked out by one of the middle-aged male managers. I pointed out how grateful I am that the store offers discounts and we got to talking a bit. He told me he was widowed last year and has five children, three of whom are older and out of the house or in college and two younger ones, around eight. He added that he checks out the daily meat specials himself. I felt a kinship and connection with him that never would have been realized if I hadn't made an effort to converse and reach out.

When I walked past the store employee earlier in the week because I felt criticized and embarrassed, the end result wasn't productive or positive. The same thing happened at a football game when I wasn't very responsive to one of the mom's saying hello to me. Later in the game, I realized my unfriendliness was rude and made a point to respond to her, admitting she had caught me with a bad mood. I then did my best to smooth over the situation.

These social interactions have made me cognizant that although I do make a very strong effort to be pleasant and kind when out in public, there are times that I resort to bitterness and I close myself off. In doing so I create disharmony - not good. Compared to the nice, interesting conversation I had with the store manager which definitely showed that lightness, openness and pleasantness are powerful social graces.

I know that none of us can be up and in great moods all the time, least of all me. But it was nice to be reminded this week of the ability I have to control some of my own destiny in a simple interaction that can set the tone for the rest of the day and that of the people I've interacted with. I was also reminded that I can blow it but then apologize and smooth things over. All is not lost if I goof up - there are second chances in which to make amends and heal wrongs.

I think in the past that I've worn my grief and loss as a badge allowing myself to blow people off or interact in public with a stoic distance. But I'm realizing that I can still feel all that I feel and have felt and still be decent to the innocent public who don't know me. It makes the world a nicer place for all.


  1. Thank you for pointing this out. I don't like to think of myself as rude, but I know that I can be distant, and appear cold when around other people. I too use this as a defense to how hurtful life has been to me. I sometimes forget that I am not the only one who has experienced loss, or pain, and that others might benefit from a smile, or simple conversation. I am also often pleasantly surprised how much I can benefit from these types of interaction as well.

    I often feel like I am wearing dark glasses all the time, and that once in a while it's okay to put on my old rose colored ones for a change.

  2. Interesting topic. Earlier on in my life, I worked in the automotive business in service-related jobs where I dealt with mechanics and also walk-in customers all day long. My husband and I worked together and I think it may have been from him that I picked up the habit of trying to smile and make a bit of small talk with the men I worked with, or any customers who wandered in. I don't mean grinning and being annoying, but just being pleasant and trying to think of some small thing to say to each person, or to remember something they'd told me about themselves in the past, and to bring that up in conversation. "How's the bass fishing lately?" How's your hockey team doing this year?" "How's your new puppy coming along?" "How is your daughter liking being at university?" Just that kind of stuff. I'd just say something brief while looking up the parts for their order. It made it easier to deal with everyone and also showed that I'm an attentive person who actually listens to what someone has told me before. A good friend who is a top real estate salesman has discussed this with me (he sold my farm for me) and says this is such an important skill - taking time to listen to people, learn something about them, and interact a bit.

    One of the things I've really noticed since coming to Nova Scotia to work on this old house that I bought, is how different the people are here. I actually knew this from before, so it wasn't a major discovery, but I'd forgotten between visits. However, it's one of the reasons that I chose this community as a place to buy a summer house. Back where I lived in Ontario, the stores are busy and no one ever talks. It's all rush-rush-rush and there's frequently a bit of rudeness. Here, the pace is very different and everyone does some chit-chatting as they take care of your order. For example, the grocery store where I shop shares the same parking lot as the vet clinic where I've been taking my dogs. The grocery store clerks all ask me about my dogs as they've seen them (I have big Collie dogs). Or, they or the people in the hardware store ask how things are coming along on the old house I've been working on all summer. It's nice and very pleasant and tells me that I'm not just another body passing through the doors of their business. Some people might regard the small talk and questions as invasive, but I know that's not the spirit that is intended. The people here are friendly and curious and want to know you and be able to talk to you about the weather, the farm crops, your dogs, or whatever. They like to know where you came from, which house you bought, why you came here, etc.. It's an important part of the social scene -- something that has been somewhat lost in the busier parts of our society. There's no reason that we can't allow that way of interacting to flourish in our daily lives, but it does require letting down our guards a bit. I think we tend to do this online, which is perhaps why we are able to socialize fairly easily, but in our everyday walking-around lives, we tend to be a lot more guarded. It impedes our ability to get to know the people in our community. I don't see this as a positive form of progress in the modern world.

  3. I'm so glad to read this post. I know that you often feel socially isolated, and I think it is a huge positive step for you to consider how you yourself might be contributing to this feeling, and then taking positive actions based on those considerations. And it is great that you got positive feedback in return.

    It is really hard and it almost feels unnatural for me to consider how I might contribute to a problem, when the problem is that I feel wronged in some way, but I do know that whenever I make this effort and then follow it up with humbleness and openness, it is SO helpful and nearly always makes the problem smaller.

    Keep it up! You inspire me when you can take steps such as these.


  4. This is a great topic.

    I like to think of myself as 'nice', but I am also, by nature, reserved with strangers. In a supermarket, my sister will chat up everyone within a 6 foot radius while she is on line. I would never. But not because I deliberately want to offend anyone. I just have a different way of approaching the world.

    I need a little more time to consider a situation, I am a little more cautious. She isn't nicer than I am (although she would beg to differ! lol), she's just different. Comparing our different styles is comparing apples and oranges. It simply is who we are.

    So while I agree that our social interactions can have enormous power to lighten each other's loads in this life, be kind to yourself when you are being yourself. :)

  5. Dan - I don't ever think I'm outright rude, but that sometimes I am withdrawn or less than enthusiastic and social. That isn't such a bad thing I guess, yet when I make a bit more effort I can see a difference and it is better.

    I kind of like the idea of wearing sunglasses once in a while. I've never worn them but recently read that they make the wearer appear more glamorous/mysterious. They'd be good to wear on those days I'm not feeling that socially minded! I could hide but still look good!

    Bev - It is nice that you live in a community where social graces are more observed. Here in suburbia where life is a mad rush and pace, there isn't much of that. But I think there are other smaller towns across the U.S. where life is more like where you are now at. I do agree with you that the internet and blogging community allow for us to become more intimate and let our guard down.

    ARB - Thank you for your feedback. I like to know that I might possibly inspire and I have surely been motivated by so many who interact with me via this blog.

    Marie - It is true that some of us respond differently in social situations than others. And none of us should be forced to be social when we're out of sorts or not feeling up to it.

  6. Very interesting post and comments. Thank you! Introverts, extraverts. We have different ways of being fed and feeding others. I've been mislabeled aloof or timid or hypersensitive, because shifting gears to socialize briefly doesn't come naturally. By necessity, I've become so much better at socializing since my husband died. I now travel widely on my own and initiate contact, since love comes my way when I make the effort. But, I do feel sad as well as loved when my heart is touched by others, for this same heart misses my late husband's love and comraderie so much. Kindness often triggers tears for me.

  7. Flo - What amazing insight. I think there are many of us out there struggling with the need and desire to connect but the sadness that results from that contact. It is what I would term another cruel aspect of widowhood that most wouldn't even consider. Thank you for raising this point. It depicts the very complicated nature of widowhood.