“Mind Your Manners”

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I had to learn a whole slate of table manners when I was growing up. Among them were don’t slurp your milk, chew with your mouth shut, don’t talk while you’re eating, use your silverware not your fingers, do the two hand switcheroo with the knife and fork when cutting meattwohandswitcheroo

(you then had to trade the knife and fork and eat off the fork),

ask to be excused at the end of the meal, and don’t drop food to the dog under the table! I put in this last one to reward anyone who finished the list. It was an actual rule, but I doubt that it was in Emily Post’s book of etiquette.

At camp I learned two new rules which were given special names or rhymes. The first went “Mabel, Mabel well and able get your elbow off the table.” This was new for me. And if you propped your knife on the side of your plate you were called out for making a “gangplank.” Not manner related but camp fun nonetheless, when a milk carton was empty we were to lay it on its side and announce “dead cow,” to get the servers’ attention.

With the exception of the knife and fork switcheroo, all these manners seem to be expected all over the United States. I am curious if any of my readers can add to my list.

“Learning About Diversity”

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I grew up in one of the whitest states in the United States in the 1950’s in a totally white neighborhood. The textbooks we used were illustrated with white children. Magazine ads featured white models. Television shows were populated with white actors. The only exception were servants such as Jack Benny’s butler, Rochester. The crayon called “flesh” was pink. Santa was white. Jesus was white. I was white, so I had no reason to question the way the world was presented to me.

My grade school had been completely white except for one Haitian girl, daughter of a live in maid. But my high school drew from several feeder schools, and I encountered my first Chinese-American, Japanese-American and African-American classmates. But I still was pretty isolated and oblivious to the issue of race in America.

My baptism by fire came in as civil rights became a central issue in the early 1960’s. I became educated quickly about segregation and discrimination. But at the time I thought it was an issue only in the southern part of the country. Certainly it was there that governors stood in doorways to block students and police turned dogs on protestors. But the absence of true integration, evident all around me in Portland, escaped my awareness.

A lifetime later I have been consciously educating myself about the variety of human beings that share this planet. I have realized how limiting my childhood experience and education was for the world I would live in. I have read deeply about my country, its treatment of people groups from other parts of the world, and its resistance to recognizing the continuing affect of deeply held prejudices of all sorts. And as I look at Donald Trump I see a man who never learned to see, as I have, how much he had lost by isolation and how much he would gain by embracing diversity

 

“Learning to Listen”

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“Listen up!” Who hasn’t heard someone in authority say that to quiet a group? “Are you even listening?” That seems to be a common question between partners. “Haven’t you heard a thing I said?” Every parent seems to ask that of their kid at one time or another. Clearly we share a challenge when we are asked to listen to another. At the same time, we need others to listen to us. We are much less forgiving of another zoning out when we are talking than we are of own own daydreaming while another talks.

I have to repeatedly relearn the art of listening. Instinctively I seem to listen to another person while simultaneously preparing my response. If I am in agreement with the other, I often start answering before she finishes talking. If I disagree, I am thinking about my point of view instead of listening to his. I have always found it much easier to talk than to listen! In fact in school I was constantly reprimanded for what they called “unnecessary talking.” (As if anything I was saying was unnecessary.)

I find it easiest to listen when there is no need for me to respond. Audio books and I get along well. Similarly, I can take in a homily in church. I find that I also deeply listen to the weekly readings. But put me in a discussion group about the homily or the readings and my “talk first listen later if at all” personality pops up.

I wonder how anyone learns to listen. My family was a constant cacophony of six people trying to get their points across. That can’t have helped. Still, I sense that there is a discipline to truly listening. It seems to require patience, tolerance and openness to another person. I continually aim to show up in each conversation willing to really listen. Now if the other person would just put down their phone!

 

“Learning from Mistakes”

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Only bowlers will understand the negative anticipation in the above illustration. Despite the player’s best intention to hit the pins, the ball is heading towards the right gutter making no points. I often think of my life in much the same way . Despite my best intentions I often miss the mark entirely. The bowler can study her grip and her stance to improve on the next roll of the bowling ball. I need to do the same if I intend to learn from my errors. Otherwise I will keep on with the same old same old.

How I respond to mistakes depends on my surroundings. As a child, mistakes were unacceptable in my home, so shame clouded any missteps. I have had to learn how to benefit from mistakes instead of heaping more scorn on my already disappointed self. It has helped immensely to encounter new responses to errors. Most helpful lately has been my experience in the gym with my trainer. If I am doing an exercise incorrectly I am likely to injure myself. Here I get an immediate reward by adjusting my approach. My trainer and I can share a laugh about my convoluted way of trying to follow his instruction. The stakes for making a mistake are nonexistent.

In more important areas mistakes can have bigger consequences. But as I accept that I will make mistakes, some even serious ones, I can acknowledge my shortcomings without shame. As a added benefit, I find that I can accept others’ errors without condemnation or judgment. I can truly say that, despite all of our best intentions, we all do make mistakes. And sometimes we can even learn from them. But that won’t prevent future mistakes. It turns out no one really is perfect, including me.

“A Delicate Balance”

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Our first balance challenge comes when we try to move from hands and knees to walking upright. While an essential skill, it doesn’t come easily, and we land on our behinds frequently trying to figure it out. After that we try running, usually before we are quite successful at stopping, and often fall forward when we try to stop.

Eventually balance on two feet becomes second nature, so we learn to balance on various devices. Bicycles challenge us to remain upright while moving our feet in circles. Roller skates demand that we align two sets of wheels and move only forward, while trying to avoid doing the splits. Ice skates further try our balancing patience trying to glide on two long metal pieces. We rush down ski slopes on two wooden boards. Then we walk over creeks on logs, balance on railroad tracks, and teeter on the tops of walls. We have achieved an amazing array of balancing skills with some patience and perseverance.

And then one day late in life we find that something has gone awry. A skill we took for granted–balancing–seems as challenging as it did years ago. We use handrails going down stairs, after wondering for years what they were for. We accept a hand on slippery surfaces. We begin to think about broken bones when we consider ice skating and roller skating. Our bravado about balancing seems to have evaporated.

Fortunately, as I wrote a few months ago, there are exercises such as balancing on one foot while brushing our teeth, that restore balance. While I wish I could take balance for granted as I did for so many years, I now concentrate on maintaining it. It’s a lot farther to the ground if I fall now!

 

 

“Local Knowledge”

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Each year on the Oregon coast sneaker waves sweep unsuspecting visitors to their deaths. At other times tourists are killed with large driftwood logs rolling over them. Both happen because these people don’t possess local knowledge acquired naturally by those who live near the ocean.

Here I sit on a large log on very dry sand far up from the water. I absorbed lessons very early from my first visits to the beach. The first was to never turn my back on the ocean. This was reinforced before I had any idea of its importance since my parents were on the lookout for unexpectedly large waves. By the time I explored the beach on my own the lesson was firmly entrenched.

I was also cautioned to never climb on driftwood that was on wet sand. Clearly the log had been washed there by the waves and could just as easily be washed away, injuring me. Plenty of driftwood accumulated high on the beach left during winter storms but not at risk of moving in normal weather. We played on it.

I was also taught to distinguish between the tide coming in and going out. If it was going out I might be able to reach a rock and play on it. But I needed to watch for the tide returning and stranding me on the rock. In my childhood people stranded on rocks had to wait for the tide to turn to return to shore. In recognition, I guess, that so many travelers don’t understand tides, the Coast Guard now rescues people stranded on the largest rock, Haystack, at Cannon Beach, our favorite spot.

It’s easy to forget that what is “common” sense for some was actually locally acquired and is not “common” at all.