Saturday, March 5, 2011

SOCIAL LIFE - Sundry Obligations

In 1904 Good Housekeeping published a guide for tips on entertaining: The Good Housekeeping Hostess - An Old-Fashioned Guide to Gracious Living.  In this book there are smart ideas and guidance that still apply today, as well as a fascinating glimpse of social life in an earlier era.

I have found the book entertaining; thought provoking; and enlightening.  This along with the giant Miss Manners book, my social behavior has been shaped and molded.  I am not yet so socially refined that I have set myself high above the rest in any social class.  I am however confident that I will not embarrass myself.

Below is a quote from the book:

"It sometimes happens in our experience that though we possess many beautiful and valuable bits of information, we lack that very one for which we have immediate need, and like the lady who glories in nine rose point berthas and perforce remains away from the horse show for want of linen collar and cuffs, we may know quite glibly that the nation's chief in far-away Washington is addressed as His Excellency, and yet pucker our brows in vain bewilderment as to whether plain little next-door Lucy is our dear Mrs. Gray or simply dear Lucy since she came home from the honeymoon.

"Perhaps it will help a little if we remember that all conventions are in their final analysis dictated by the heart and based on the golden rule.  They may have been cut long ago at some grand court, and dried through usage among gentlefolk of many lands, and yet they are less arbitrary than would seem at first thought.  Rules of etiquette have always been equally binding on all members of the set which uses them, and as my lady is sometimes guest and on other occasions hostess, it would plainly be but natural for her to advocate the least irksome duty for each class; besides which is the fact that truly well-bred people regulate their conduct by kindly feeling for each other.

"To be sure there are the fads which crop up from year to year, and the improper use of forks and finger bowls has been made such a bogie that many a woman, on her way to a large dinner, trembles at thought of the ordeal before her.  But no lady need really fear.  Table etiquette, like all the rest, is primarily to protect us from unpleasing spectacles; and it is by no means impossible for a gentlewoman to handle her asparagus in an old-fashioned manner without losing caste, while the person next her conforms to the fad of the day and yet offends by a too-evident enjoyment of her salad.

"If, then, you are not sure as to the exact requirement in certain social obligations, and have no way of finding out, do the thing you would consider graceful and kind were you in the position of the other person concerned; and above all things, keep on your face the calm smile of self-possession, which goes so far to prove that you know what you are about."

This book and others like it remind me of the characters in books and movies like "Emma", "Sense and Sensibility", and "Persuasion".  Often my mind fashions what life would have been like had I  been born in that time.  I fantasize about the life and social gatherings depicted in movies like "The Age of Innocence" and long for the bright colours and formality.

Then I recall all the things and experiences I was exposed to in my own life.  The opportunities to participate in musical learning; visual arts and culture.  There was no lack of the beauty and social etiquette portrayed in those movies and books that my own Mother valued and made sure that we were taught.

 Growing up, Mother, taught me many things about polite behavior and how to act like a lady.

One of the first lessons from Mother was how to walk like a lady and not like a "farmer".  We spent time in the kitchen practicing.  I would walk a straight line between the rows of tile; making sure my feet did not venture outside that line.  The days of walking like I had just gotten off a horse were quickly swept away and replaced with a graceful narrow glide across the kitchen floor.  At least that was the goal.

Mother also reinforced the "Golden Rule" reminding us to treat others with the kindness and respect that we would like to receive.  She also used the words of Thumper's mother "If you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all."  This is behavior dictated by the heart and conduct regulated by kindly feeling for each other. 

I have found that there is a great lack of kindly feeling for others in this world.  It has been replaced by smug; condescending; hurtful words aimed at destroying others and raising one's self above the rest.  I see this disgraceful behavior everywhere.  It is in the work place; on the freeways; in the class room; at the market and even at church.  What a disgrace to modern society.  What a shame that we can't even follow the simple command of the Savior "Love one another."

Mother didn't teach just by her words.  She has often shown how to act like a lady by her own behavior.    She is the example of grace; kindness and peace.  She is the one in a crowded room; in a social gathering or even at church who is the one person who has mastered the grace of putting herself in the position of the other person.  She keeps on her face the calm smile of self-possession, proving that she knows what she is about.

Even with all the books on etiquette; gracious living; and acceptable behavior I have learned more from my Mother than anywhere else.  If I am to pattern my life after someone I know it would be my Mother.  I have no fear of being led astray because I know that she has patterned her life after the Savior.


Anonymous said...

I concur...Mommy is a great role model!

Trillium said...

You might be interested to know that I just added a new book to my collection (just got it this week):The Civility Solution--What to Do When People Are Rude, written by P.M. Forni. Several months ago I read another book by Forni: Choosing Civility--The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct. I felt the need for a bit of coaching because rudeness is so rampant these days, and I needed some suggestions on how to respond kindly and respectfully even when others are behaving like barbarians. Rude reactions are easy, but wrong. Lowering my behavior to their level is never an option.