Have we forgotten our Manners?

Manners aren’t only for the dinner table.

This week I picked up a call from an unknown number.  Truthfully, I knew who it was from the area code and it was their third or fourth call that week.  It was just that I finally heard the call and had time for it, so I picked up…

Me: “Hello.”

Guy: “Hello, this is Such-and such from James Madison University. Do you have time to talk?”

Me: “Yes, hello, how are you?”

Guy: Pause. “I think you’re the first person to ask me that today.”

Such-and-such was a freshman at JMU, my alma mater, soliciting for donations.  I can only guess how many hundreds of people he may have called that day.  It was evening by the time he got to me and they call alumni all the way back to the 50’s.  And I was the first person to ask how he was?!?  It was so noticeable that he said something.  That’s insane.

It struck me.  Have we forgotten our manners?  Have we become so defensive that we cannot even greet a solicitor properly?

I admit, when I first picked up the phone I wanted to say I didn’t have the time.  I wanted to get him off the phone as quickly as possible because I felt bad that I was going to have to say, “I’m sorry I can’t donate today.”  Something told me to stay on the phone.  I heard a little voice encourage me to be as nice as possible because “I’m sure he has had a rough time of it on the phone today.”

I enjoyed my chat with him about what I had done since JMU and what is going on there at the moment.  It is a wonderful school and I am happy to hear that they keep on building up the community there with new dreams and new projects.  So much has changed since I attended the school.  When he got to the part about the money he was polite.  Then it was over.  10 minutes tops.  It cost me nothing and I hopefully contributed something positive to that guy’s job.

A lot of the time, we are so hardened to the world.  We are expecting people to take advantage of our time, money, generosity that we immediately put up a defense.  It is hard to remember that the people on the other end of the phone are people and they deserve our kindness and respect, even if we truly have nothing to give.  Maybe a brief chat or just a quick greeting is all someone needs that moment to pick them out of despair.  Each one of us is capable of being the light in another person’s day, even if that person is a stranger.

I learned in Namibia to greet everyone I meet.  One of my friends says that is also common in the African-American community.  A head-nod or a what’s up is customary as you pass in the street.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you know the person or want to stop for a twenty-minute talk.  It is acknowledgement of their existence, inclusion in the community.

I have carried this lesson from my home far-away back to the states.  I often beat the check-out clerks to a greeting and I smile at random people in the street.  Being open in this way has led to some beautiful moments and some unexpected conversations.  I recommend you try it.  Just once today, look someone you pass in the eye and smile or just nod your head in acknowledgement.  When you walk into the store, say hello to the clerk.  Don’t hang up the phone immediately on a telemarketer.  Treat the help-desk with respect.  Mind your manners, and you never know what could open up for you!

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