20-40-60 Etiquette: 'Be nice to someone today'
QUESTION: In our quest for civility, I want to ask this question: What is the kindest thing that anyone has ever done for you? Did it require a lot of money? Did it also mean something to the person who bestowed the kindness? I feel like we should all be examples of politeness, and refrain from any cutting remarks with no filter to each other. We can all make a difference in polite society and return to gentleness to humanity. From a young person who watches kindheartedness in older people.
CALLIE’S ANSWER: This question made me feel awkward and uncomfortable, as I see myself as a young person. It makes me sad that this young person only sees kindheartedness in older people. There IS kindness and civility no matter if it is big or small and no matter your age. Kindness can be someone opening the door for you, letting someone merge in 5 p.m. traffic, stopping to pick up your neighbor’s dog that got out or bringing a co-worker coffee. Kindness can be everywhere; you just have to look.
As a new mom, I ran to grab milk from the grocery store with my toddler son. He’s usually really good in the store, but this day, he threw a massive fit in line. Trying to hold him and keep the milk in my hands was a major struggle. Two complete strangers, one behind me and one in front of me helped me. The one behind me took the milk and put it on the counter while the one in front of me, let me go ahead of them and check out. I was very grateful. Be kind to yourself and be kind to one another.
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: One of my favorite quotes about kindness came from Conan O’Brien as he left "The Tonight Show" after some controversy in 2010. The longer quote is great, but the short version is a good mantra to live by: “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen."
That rang true then, and it still is today.
When my kids’ and my house burned down in 2014, we felt so much love and gratitude to all the family members, friends, neighbors and communities that wrapped us up and carried us through that time. My family came in the middle of the night, even if all they could do was watch our home burn with us, and they continued to help. Neighbors whom we didn’t know well went to Walmart that night and got us clothes to wear the next day and toothbrushes; one gave me the flip flops on her feet since none of us got out of the house with shoes as the fire spread quickly. My daughter ended up with three birthday cakes since it happened the night before she turned 13. Friends showed up the next day and the next and the next. One immediately brought an accordion file folder, a notepad and pen to start keeping track of all the documents and things we would need to rebuild. Our church community supported us; so did my children’s school communities. Even strangers offered us clothes and gift cards as we were overwhelmed with what to do next. We were so thankful for everyone’s kindness and don’t know what we would have done without it. During that time, we realized how important being a part of a community — or many of them — is to everyone. Through strong communities, even if it’s just a small group, we can take care of each other, and my wish is that we help even the most alienated among us find community.
We have tried to pay that generosity forward through the years and will never forget it.
HELEN’S ANSWER: People have been kind to me all of my life, and I am so thankful for my family and friends. When my husband was ill, a group of friends banded together to help us with home health care. Also, my son, daughter-in-law and daughters took over management of the household and assisted with some of the meals. It was truly a blessing of many kindnesses during that time that we were so overwhelmed and it meant the world to us.
Everyone should refrain from saying snarky comments to one another. Polite manners dictate that we treat others with civility and kindness and even gentleness. If you get sabotaged with a cutting remark, try not to let that jab stress you out. Stay strong!
GUEST’S ANSWER: Chuck Ainsworth, local community leader: So glad a young person is curious about civility given what we see and hear on a daily basis. There was another young person curious about this topic named George Washington. When he was between 13 and 16 years old he discovered “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” written by the French Jesuits. He was so taken by this he copied the 110 rules and used these to guide his behavior his entire life. Now these rules might seem silly and outdated but most are as valuable today as they were then.
While I have been so blessed with family and friends who show respect and kindness to me, two random strangers gave me a huge boost when I was in the Seattle airport in 1970. I had just returned from Vietnam, alone and unsure of what type of homecoming to expect. Two well-dressed gentlemen approached my table, asked if they could join me and offered to buy me a drink. They proceeded to thank me for my service to our country and told they were so proud of me and all who served. Bet they don’t even remember that — but I do.
Be nice to someone today, you never know what kind of dividends it might pay. Buy George’s book, it might inspire you.
Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is 40-plus, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email email@example.com.