Saturday, 2 October 2010
Ummm, excuse me.
My friend Megan (aka @Gabfran) described me as a people observer. It wasn't until that moment that I thought of it that way. Having grown up a maths geek and transforming in to a fluttering computing geek, I have spent most of my life not really understanding what other people think.
There is a disconnect between me and the next person. Thanks to my mother's repeated teachings to myself and my siblings about putting yourself in other people's shoes, I have a good amount of empathy and an addiction to shoes. Having an understanding of people was not something that was innate for me, like it was for my younger sister. Most days, most people were mostly unfathomable to me.
Because of this lack of understanding and like a good little conceptualist, I took it upon myself to look at what was happening and attempt to see the patterns of behaviour. Over time and by about the time I hit my late teens, I had a fairly good model of human behaviour. That does by no means say that I understood or even now understand people. I doubt I ever truly will. What I do know though is how to listen and absorb what is being communicated and understand the meaning and motivation behind the message.
It may sound mechanical, constructed or even insincere but it isn't. People are just a hobby of mine. I often refer to my portfolio of friends and the idea that you can tell more about someone from the people they surround themselves with than from the person themselves. We all wear masks but our treatment of others will often betray us.
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” -- Emily Post
One thing that bothers me on each visit to my home in Darwin, is the way that people are willing to treat each other. Of course, these people I speak of are the exception and not the rule but they are more common than pandas.
Having worked in my sister's jewellery shop regularly, I have experienced moments where I spoke to someone who entered the shop and got not even eye contact in acknowledgement. At first I thought I'd done something to offend them or had been too forward but on reflection a simple "hello" is hardly toe stomping.
It seems that people with little to no social skills do actually exist. They walk this earth and look just like everybody else. They pay taxes. They breed. They own property and to my peril, they like fashion jewellery too on occasion.
I often used to take this behaviour and other more subtle inhabitations of this as some reflection on my manners or presence. Then it came to pass that no matter how much more considerate, respectful or thoughtful I was, these people never changed. Words like "please", "thank you" and "excuse me" did not exist to them. Other people were and are a disturbance in their life and there is not protocol demanding they be civil so they are not.
“Good manners sometimes means simply putting up with other people's bad manners.” -- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Not all is lost though. In my life, as in my work and all interactions, I believe that the most powerful way to change the world is to set a good example yourself. Lead the way through demonstration and consistency. If someone is rude, don't be rude back. Rather be who you are, consistent in your behaviour and respect for others.
I may not know a lot about people but I do know that kindness is like a spark that lights a fire. The way you treat others will bring the same back on you. Kill the bad manners with good manners. You won't save all people but saving people is over-rated. Save yourself. Be someone you can live with. Please.