15 October 2009

Love Is Kind

Don’t flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become.
~ Oliver Wendall Holmes

ommon courtesy is not so common anymore. The little polite phrases most of us were taught as children have all but disappeared from our daily conversations and interactions. Why have we stopped being polite to one another? I have addressed this topic before ~ focusing more on courtesy to strangers; now I wish to bring it a little closer to home and discuss proper behaviour towards loved ones.

One would think that such a discussion would not be needed; treating loved ones well seems so obvious. Sadly, such is not the case. Recently, this was brought home to me as I was the recipient on two separate occasions of very wounding and outright rude comments made to me by people I trusted. And while being on this side of the curtain now, I am sure that being a fallen human being, I have likewise said rude and hurtful things to friends and loved ones in the past as well.

Why do we do this? Now, one could posit that I was hurt because the words were spoken by those whose affection and good opinion I desire ~ the heart feels safe in the presence of loved ones and so does not protect itself as it does with strangers. While there is truth to that, in both these cases, the hurtful words I experienced no lady or gentleman would ever speak to anyone, let alone a dear friend or potential girlfriend. They are things that just are not said in polite company. Again, why do we do this? Does familiarity truly breed contempt?

Or perhaps, as Oliver Wendall Holmes points out, we somehow feel justified in “speaking our minds.” Things may be topsy-turvy these days, but I am pretty sure imprudent speech is still a vice and not a virtue. It is one thing to take a loved one aside and caution them about some potentially dangerous behavior [and even then, such ‘fraternal correction’ should be done with love, humility, tact and kindness]. It is quite another to make rude comments about their person, appearance, character and otherwise treat them as a comfortable old shoe. And old shoe you step on and throw into the corner after a long day. We should never be that comfortable with a loved one. If we would never think of saying X to a stranger lest we give offense, how much more careful should we be with the vulnerability of our loved ones, who have trusted us and let us in where no other may enter, save perhaps God.

Society today so abhors formality ~ but formality and courtesy are not the same thing. One can be exceedingly formal and still ride roughshod over everyone’s feelings. A friend once remarked that he was fine with throwing out archaic rules of etiquette as long as new ones were created in their place. Our society did one without doing the other and culture has suffered as a consequence. Courtesy oils the wheels of daily life. It is difficult enough as it is ~ we go about our day battered by bosses, co-workers, and obliviously rude strangers on the train. At the very least, we should expect a little more kindness and warmth from our loved ones.

So the next time you feel the need to “speak honestly” to someone in a way that would be hurtful and pointless, don't.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela


Meghan said...

Alice von Hildebrand makes a similar point in her letters to her newlywed goddaughter.

What is at the heart of courtesy and etiquette? Any good reading or exercise suggestions?

Unknown said...

Hmmm, there are several good books on etiquette. Perhaps I should do a new post...