Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Magic Circles of People

Last Saturday, during our monthly Heart of Dixie meeting, we were all treated to a wonderful review of the rules of etiquette. Now I already knew how to use my knife and fork and, given my European background and strict parents, how to behave properly in restaurants and during banquets. I know how to set a proper table and how to eat from the outside in regarding the cutlery. But before you think this is going to be a review of how to eat properly and zoom out of this page, I want to share with you the greater lesson I learned on Saturday.

Etiquette is more about how to live and create gracious civility in the world where we live than it is about how to hold a knife and fork properly. In other words, etiquette is about treating the people around us with honor, dignity and respect.

Cool, right? Think about how the world is today. We have cell phones and people having intense conversations on them in all manner of places. I have heard more delicious gossip while standing at the checkout counter waiting my turn to toss groceries on the belt than at a party. What are these people thinking? They aren't. And they aren't being very gracious to the person running their food products through the scanner.

I don't do that to my cashiers. I have conversations with them. I believe I know almost every one of the people working at my local grocery store: there's a gal named J**** who is probably the best bagger I know. She's very proud of her work and whenever I see her, I get a hug and she asks me about my day. Then there's the retired gentleman who takes my groceries to the car. The other day he asked me about my favorite wines. We had a lovely conversation. I know about his cheerleading granddaughter, his former places of residence and more.

Rule #1 of how to treat people with dignity, respect and honor: BE NICE, stop to ask questions. Be interested, genuinely interested in what they have to say.

Another thing we learned as we prepare for our annual RWA National Conference is that we are only famous among our peers. Sure, I know who all the famous authors are who are going to be at Nationals. I've all but admitted my obsession with Nora Roberts (really I will have a meltdown fan girl moment if I am within 5 feet of her--I don't want to, but I think I will--either that or I will lose my ability to think coherently and babble). But in the outside world? Nora Roberts won't be as easily recognized.

I thought a lot about that concept. For instance, my darling husband is considered the "Genius of MDA" by many of his peers and co-workers in his industry. Scientists and engineers know him and go to him for his expertise in his specialty of Physics. He's sort of famous in his world, but to most of you, he's just my darling hubby. I'm glad he's thought of that way because he's earned it. As have the famous authors who are going to attend the national conference in Orlando. When I am in that conference world, I will not stampede them, I will respect their right to privacy (tho' I might be hyperventilating inwardly), and I will treat them with dignity, respect and honor.

Rule #2: We are only famous in our own circles of peers. It is not about us, it is about the world around us that counts.

Now those of you who know me, know I am not exactly a shy, retiring "wall flower." I am a people person and I love to socialize. But I'm probably the exception to the rule in the writing world. In fact, I'd wager that most writers are shy, or good at hiding their discomfort if they are in their world of peers. Or they might have their trusted circles of friends and not stray too far from them so they can feel safe.

I have a secret to tell you. I am a reformed shy person who early on learned a trick or two about how to feel more comfortable in new situations. I am also a former, maybe current, geek who was never in the popular crowd and has learned she doesn't want to be in the popular crowd. My few good and cherished close friends are all I need--I don't need people to validate me, I am validated by my own set of rules and accomplishments. I validate myself for myself. But I remember how hard it is to walk into a room and not know a single soul and just feel, well, just feel overwhelmed. And that's a lonely feeling.

Rule #3: Always act like the host/hostess in your corner of the world. Bring civility, grace, dignity and respect into the world by your actions.

Now I've learned how to handle this by actually enjoying my own company a lot. I eat lunch by myself in public, walk alone, sit and listen to the outside world as I sip coffee or read. I am cool with it. But it's tough to be alone in a huge convention of people where there are all these MAGIC CIRCLES of groups who aren't always aware of the fact that there are a few individuals out there who might want to be included, but are too polite to bust their magic bubble. If I walk into a room, I already know where to go. I go to the first person I see who is standing by herself and strike up a conversation. Chances are I will eventually end up with my own little herd of people after a while (as said the Etiquette Lady).

But what if I already am in a circle of friends or peers and someone comes in who is clearly alone? The etiquette lady said something that spoke volumes to me: treat every situation you are in as if you are the host/hostess and welcome new people into your circle. Try to make them comfortable. Treat the world as your party and you are in charge of making sure your corner of the world is filled with civility. You are in charge of making sure you treat that one lonely person standing by the coffee cups on the banquet table with dignity, respect and honor. You will invite that person into your MAGIC CIRCLE of people.

You never know. You might just be inviting a famous person into your world.

Now, I'd like to thank Laura Rich, the business etiquette expert, who came into our world on Saturday and treated us all with dignity, respect, honor and a dash of great southern humor.


Kieran said...

You should send this article to the RWR magazine. It's awesome!!!

Piedmont Writer said...

I agree with Kieran!

Being in the restaurant/catering business for so long, I too, greet the person who walks in by herself. I'm naturally shy but will open up if someone talks to me.

Great post! And I like the idea we're only famous in our own worlds. Although I think Nora Roberts is famous everywhere. That being said, I wouldn't recognize her if she knocked on my door. That's what I like about writing fame, you still have the anonymity if you want.

Christine said...

Kieran: thanks for the suggestion. I might just send it in for next year's pre-conference RWR. Looking forward to this year's big time!

Christine said...

Piedmont Writer: I think NR is a goddess of writing, but when I told my nurse at the doctor's office she looked like NR (and she does!), she was like, Nora Who? I had the RWR magazine with me so I showed her and her friends at the nurse's station the picture. They were pretty amazed at the resemblance.

Personally, I'm just thrilled to see her speak at this year's conference. I love her work ethic and her writing.

Jean said...

Great post, Christine. I cannot imagine you learning anything to make you more gracious. It is your state of being!

Christine said...

Jean, thank you so very much, but I do have my obtuse moments--trust me. When that happens, I apologize and move on. We all make mistakes :-). I think the trick is to keep looking for ways to improve one's graciousness.

I learned another neat trick as well. Always wear your bag/purse over your LEFT shoulder. Then your right hand will be free to extend and shake when you meet someone new.

prashant said...

It's awesome!!!
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