I can’t remain silent any longer!  I have to do something!  I would climb to the highest rooftop and yell, but someone else would own it and there would be liability issues.  I could Blog or use Twitter, but I hope more people than just the tech-savvy would hear my cry.  So I have chosen an old reliable alternative of putting my message into print.  It is my hope that those who have eyes to see, ears to hear, or scissors to cut out an article and stick it on a wall somewhere, will do so.

My message is actually a couple of questions.  As an etiquette consultant, I have worked with colleges, universities, businesses, corporations, children, youth programs, women-to-work programs, alternative education programs.    I’ve worked with corporate executives, farmers, car dealers, architects, engineers, medical professionals, lumber brokers, lobbyists and religious leaders.  I’ve also been out and about as a teacher, wife, sister, mother, and friend.   It is these varied experiences that compel me to think the questions that beg expression:  People, what are we doing to ourselves?  What are we doing to each other?

I hear business questions or comments from some, rooted in deep hurt, about comments made by a co-worker or even a stranger in passing at the office. Biting comments or criticisms made by colleagues who believe their position or professional performance is more important than someone else’s.  I hear about “old guys” that don’t know technology and are standing in the way of the young and upwardly mobile.  I hear the female executive wannabes who believe that short skirts and low cut blouses are good marketing tools.

Challenges in education are now including, not just how to keep students in school and motivated to learn, but also how to keep them from killing each other, bullying, harassing, or humiliating each other. While, in its spare time, also instructing them in how to dress so their body parts are not showing.

In society, we worry about polluting the planet but don’t hesitate to pollute conversation with foul language or offensive words.  We say we want peace, but choose hand gestures and the “f-bomb” as weapons of choice with each other.  These are the resources used most often by our children.  We sanitize our bodies from germs but contaminate our surroundings with rolling eyes, impatient clucks of the tongue, or sarcastic or judgmental comments of others.  We voice our opinions, whether anyone has asked for it or not, then walk away with a self-righteous swagger, believing we set someone straight, showed them the light, or “had to be honest”.

While I believe there are many holes in the social bucket and it will take time to plug most of them, I am a person of hope.  It is my belief that developing an understanding of “shared space” is a place to start.

When you are home, that is your private personal space; a sanctuary with its own set of rules, traditions, and expectations the family chooses and influences.  That’s why it’s supposed to be one’s castle.  However, once you leave that castle, you enter “shared space”.  In shared space, there are different people, ages, languages, cultures, beliefs, genders, values, time commitments, etc.  I believe in good manners.   Not just the trite “be nice at all costs” attitude some promote, but the powerful “make a difference for yourself and others” kind of manners.  The kind that “makes others feel good, or at least not feel bad, from having been around you” kind of manners.  Good manners are what we need to call on as our “weapon of mass impression” when in shared space. If anyone is in doubt as to what that would look like, I offer this quick tutorial.

When in shared space, remember:

  •   We are human; we have germs… Be prepared.
  •   We are human; we have ears… Be quiet.
  •   We are human; we all have the same body parts… Keep them covered.
  •   We are human; we’re in a hurry…  A smile takes just a second.
  •   We are human; we all have beliefs and choices too…  Be considerate.
  •   We are human; we hurt… Be understanding.
  •   We are human; we get overwhelmed… Be patient.
  •   We are human; sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way we planned… Be kind.
  •   We are human; we’re in this together… Be respectful.

We may not be able to answer all the questions about how to fix a breaking society, but I challenge us to at least address one.  Who can make a difference?  Each one of us.

(This article was originally submitted for magazine publication.)