In Others’ Words: Etiquette

“Etiquette — a fancy word for simple kindness.” ~ Elsa Maxwell, labeled the “Hostess with the Mostest” by the press in the mid-Twentieth century, columnist & author

You hear the word “etiquette” and I bet you groan, thinking “rules, rules and more rules.”

  • Should I offer my seat to the elderly woman who just got on the subway?
  • How do I address someone I just met — formally or casually?
  • Should I wait for a man to open the door for me or is that sexist behavior?

But what happens when you substitute the word “kindness” for the word etiquette? Ah, suddenly everything is so, so much easier. Every “what should I do now?” dilemma boils down to kindness.

  • It’s only kind to let someone older than me to sit down when it’s easier for me to stand.
  • It’s only kind to offer respect to someone I just met. If they tell me to call them by their first name, then I will.
  • It’s only kind for that man to hold a door open for me — he’s not insulting me as a woman. And if he doesn’t? Well, I’ll be kind toward him and assume he’s in a hurry — not that he’s being rude on purpose.

I like the way it’s summed up here: Put yourself aside and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourself long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:1-4, The Message)

In Your Words: When has kindness helped you out of an awkward situation — a “what do I do now?” moment?

photo by abcdz2000/
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  1. March 9, 2012, 1:57 am   /  Reply

    One place I make a concerted effort to be kind is at the post office. I’ve gotten to know our clerks pretty well these past few years as I’ve sent out lotsa contest entries and oodles of blog drawing prizes, and they are really nice people. Far too many times, though, I’ve seen others treat these hard workers with such rudeness it makes me cringe. I do my best to treat my postal worker pals with the respect they deserve–even when I’ve had to wait in line. Those little acts of kindness do make a difference. I feel good every time I leave one of them smiling.

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 7:00 am   /  Reply

      Thanks for providing an excellent example of how we can show kindness to others!

  2. Karen S. Elliott
    March 9, 2012, 5:34 am   /  Reply

    Great post. I’ve shared it. How much better we could all be with a few simple acts of kindness every day. I was in the grocery store about a week ago…a wheelchair-bound ancient lady had dropped a frozen food box, and she was trying to pry it out of the freezer compartment. About six other people passed her by before I was able to get to her and help her. Simple kindness.

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 7:01 am   /  Reply

      Oh. My. Word. Really?! They just passed her by?
      To be kind doesn’t take all that long … and it can make such a difference in someone’s life.

  3. March 9, 2012, 6:09 am   /  Reply

    Love this! I really like what you said about not assuming someone is being rude. It’s easy to think the worst of people, but it’s kind to offer a little grace and forgiveness by assuming the best about someone instead of the worst.

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 7:01 am   /  Reply

      Sometimes I think this world got a little topsy-turvy for a while — and we can assume the worst of others, rather than realizing their manners may be different than ours.

  4. Jeanne T
    March 9, 2012, 6:37 am   /  Reply

    Beth, I really like the idea of substituting the word, “kindness” for “etiquette.” It makes it so much easier to know how to act. It’s about putting another first. Such a good way to live. At the moment, a specific situation doesn’t come to mind when I was kind in an awkward situation, but I know I’ve had times when gracious words helped in an awkward situation. Thinking/Assumig the best of the other person has helped diffuse situations a number of times.

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 7:02 am   /  Reply

      I’m looking forward to having opportunities to be kind today, Jeanne.
      And knowing you — I know you are a kind person.

  5. March 9, 2012, 6:58 am   /  Reply

    I love the way the Message conveys those verses. I’ve been helped so many times when I put my foot in my mouth that there’s no room to list them all. ..

    One kindness I remember from childhood. I always wanted to sing. Never mind that I sounded like Barney Fife(and still do). Our song leader, bless his heart, let me and another girl sing a duet at church…nobody snickered or grimaced, instead we were politely amen-ed. Probably because we were done! It was only years later that my cousin told me how awful we sounded.
    Goodness…this memory will be great for my emo journal!

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 7:04 am   /  Reply

      Kindness … it can go a long way, can’t it, Pat. And it can leave an indelible mark in our lives.
      (Now, go write that in your emo journal.)

  6. March 9, 2012, 7:37 am   /  Reply

    I feel this from you with every single RT & FB mention. It’s just plain kind & encouraging. It feeds me (see RG’s post).

    ~ Wendy

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 7:54 am   /  Reply

      Thank you, Wendy.

  7. March 9, 2012, 7:53 am   /  Reply

    Sometimes the Message just says it best! “Put yourself aside and help others get ahead.” Love that! I’ve found when I’m kind, others generally are as well.

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 8:22 am   /  Reply

      It’s true, Jess. Kindness begets kindness.

  8. Patti Mallett
    March 9, 2012, 9:05 am   /  Reply

    Relationships can be complicated, but kindness is always the best choice. It will show us how to temper our words and seek to understand a person’s actions. It is a steady railing we can grab onto, when we are having difficulty keeping our balance in a situation. ~Sermon to Self

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 11:22 am   /  Reply

      What a superb word picture, Patti. 🙂

  9. March 9, 2012, 9:11 am   /  Reply

    Kindness for etiquette? What a great substitution. In Israel, young people look for opportunities to prefer the elderly on buses, help in many ways, but in London (I won’t generalize all of England), most young people “rule”–look on at weaker or elderly and gloat in possessive ownership, like playing “King of the Mtn.” I have to believe Israel’s good attitude comes from strong Bible foundations–Lord send us more.

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 11:23 am   /  Reply

      I know that China and Japan also revere the elderly.
      I don’t know that we can say that about the U.S.
      I do want to able to say that about myself, though.

  10. March 9, 2012, 11:45 am   /  Reply

    Ooh, I love that word switch, Beth. Etiquette can feel like a bunch of rules, but kindness is a way of living. Love it!

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 2:54 pm   /  Reply

      Just came back from running some errands today — and was treated kindly by a man who held the door open for me and my daughter and her friend. That’s what it was — not manners — kindness.

  11. March 9, 2012, 2:24 pm   /  Reply

    When I hear the word “etiquette” I think of my grandmother (now long gone home to heaven). She was born before the turn of the century and didn’t own pants. She carried handkerchiefs and had to have fresh cut flowers from her garden on her breakfast table. She sent thank you cards without fail and had beautiful penmanship. I don’t think of etiquette as more rules. I think of it as style. 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 2:55 pm   /  Reply

      Oh, wonderful.
      And I bet your grandmother was a kind woman too.
      I bet that was her style.

  12. March 9, 2012, 3:02 pm   /  Reply

    When my late husband had his stroke, a woman drove two hours to give me a hug. She couldn’t stay, because her own elderly husband was being hospitalized two hours away. I’ve never forgotten how kind Dorothy was to do that for me. This year, her daughter tracked me down through my blog to tell me that her mother passed away two years ago. I kept sending Christmas cards, but didn’t know. Her daughter, so much like her mother, took the time to call me when she realized a sibling had failed to write me a note. I do my best to return those grand and small gestures of kindness.

    • Beth Vogt
      March 9, 2012, 4:02 pm   /  Reply

      Your comment stole my breath away.
      Such, such kindness in deep times of need.
      And then the kindness again from your friend’s daughter.
      Knowing you as I do (through your blog and comments) I know you are a kind-hearted woman.

  13. March 11, 2012, 7:18 am   /  Reply

    This is so true, Beth! Showing kindness takes us so much further in life and away from that world of entitlement so many feel stuck in.

  14. March 12, 2012, 11:56 am   /  Reply

    This is a lovely post. It made me think about a particular day in a store last month: a woman at the register was completely raging. Everyone in the store turned to watch the scene she was making. The sales clerk was having none of it, being called names & having merchandise thrown at her – she threw it back! (a blouse, so no injuries). I think it was apparent to everyone that whatever this lady was raging about had nothing to do with the transaction – her anger was just too over-the-top. Normally, I’d walk away because these kinds of scenes make me cringe, but there was something in this woman’s face that looked like desperation to me. I approached her (carefully!) & tried to put my hand on her arm. “Whatever it is you’re going through, I’m sorry.” I said this very sincerely because her despair was even more apparent up close. She looked at me & I steeled myself to be her next victim, but instead tears fell & she literally ran away. On the way to my car 30 min. later, I saw her sitting in her car fixing her make-up. She saw me & tried to smile. It was so sad, her mascara was smeared; she looked simultaneously scary & pitiful. I smiled back. I’ll never know what was wrong with her, but I still remember her in my prayers & hope she’s okay.

    • Beth Vogt
      March 12, 2012, 12:22 pm   /  Reply

      Thank you for sharing your story.
      How kind that you showed a stranger mercy without knowing how she would respond.

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