ChatterLog October 2011

Manners

Libra, The Scales

Greetings everyone and welcome to the October bulletin and the diplomatic sign of Libra! Last year you may recall we talked about “Balance” because Libra’s symbol is the scales, the scales of justice, but this time I decided to go with the theme of “Manners” and Etiquette. Libra epitomizes “Grace under pressure.” They are the archetypical diplomats, mediators, and negotiators. Their job is to balance the two sides, or as African-American Civil Rights Activist and Baptist Minister Jesse Jackson, himself a Libra, born October 8th, 1941 said, “Leadership has a harder job to do than just choose sides. It must bring sides together.” Easier said than done, of course, but if anyone has a good shot at doing it, it is the Libra. Speaking of Libra and bringing the two sides together, current British Prime Minister, David Cameron, also a Libra, born October 9th, 1966 formed the country’s first peacetime “coalition” between his Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats. Now if only the Republicans and Democrats would take a page out of that book and work on coming together to help our President instead of hindering him…

In Sociology, “Manners” are the un-enforced standards of conduct, which demonstrate that a person is proper, polite and refined. They are unlike the laws that are enforced, but they are considered to be the “Social Norm.” But let’s be honest, what was once the “norm” as far as manners go, seems to have sadly disappeared, especially since the invention of the mobile hand-held device. This is something that has been bothering me for a long time already, and it is growing noticeably worse by the minute. Nowadays people walk down the street without watching where they are going, their eyes are glued to their tiny LCD screens or they are just so busy texting their friend that they walk right into you, and the friend is probably just up the street, anyway. They have no spatial awareness, nor any apparent desire for one. Being self-absorbed is evidently more important these days than being aware of your fellow man.

Last week, I had dinner with a group of friends, one of whom was visiting from out of town and needed to use a wheelchair when getting around town and seeing the sights. Apparently, they were pushing him down the street, and these people literally walked right into the wheelchair because they simply weren’t watching where they were walking. I mean, come on people, wake up, or better still – look up! And don’t even start me with mobile phones on public transportation. In one single bus or train ride, I can now hear all about some nutter’s cheating girlfriend, or a litany of medical complaints with detailed descriptions of all the symptoms, and especially interesting, where they are headed to right this very minute. “I’m on the bus heading uptown. I’m going to Barnes and Noble for a book signing. It’s with Jeff Bridges (or someone like that) I looooooove Jeff Bridges, I’ve seen all his movies, blah, blah, blah…” Really? Wow, I am so ecstatic that you have just shared all of that useless and unnecessary information with me, no us, all of us here together in this little public and confined space, we who have been subjected to your annoying, endless, and overly loud chatter…

As a child we were taught manners, pretty good ones, and I am thankful for that. I am always impressed by a younger person with good manners. Come to think about it, there is something quite charming about a polite person, young or old. When we were younger, if we were lucky enough to receive a gift from an aunt, or anyone, for that matter, then we automatically had to write a thank you note. That’s just what you did. And today, a handwritten thank you note still goes a long way, both in your business as well as your social life. From a work point of view, I am always touched when a client or someone whose portfolio I reviewed takes the trouble to write and thank me for my services, and I don’t mean in an email, they took the trouble to handwrite a card and stick it in the mail. Clients still appreciate the power of the handwritten note as well; so don’t be afraid to use it. One of my friends has instilled the same manners into her two kids and whenever I give them a little something for their birthdays, I always receive a handwritten note from them in the mail. Not long ago, her son turned 21 and he wrote me a charming thank you card. When I subsequently thanked him for the lovely note, he said, “Oh but I wanted to write it.” How refreshing, I thought.

“Manners Makyth Man” is the motto of New College Preparatory School in Oxford, England, the oldest of Oxford’s three choral foundations. The school was founded in 1379 (that’s pretty old, so manners have obviously been around for a very long time!) by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, to provide education for the 16 choristers who would then go on to sing at the Chapel of New College, Oxford. In other words, it’s a polite choirboy training ground. Taking this a little further, and relating back to Libra again, we could also consider Social Graces, which are skills used to interact politely in social situations. Libras are the perfect host of the party, making everyone feel at home. Their words are charming and their manner welcoming. Social Graces include Manners, Etiquette (which are the specific accepted rules within a culture for the application of universal manners), Deportment and Fashion. These skills were once taught to young women at what was known as a Finishing or Charm School, in particular in Switzerland, of all places? I thought Switzerland was thought of as being a bit “stiff” so “charming” doesn’t really come to mind when I think of Swiss cheese, banking and cuckoo clocks… or maybe it does?

My sister and I went to a private all-girls school and had instruction in Deportment, amongst other things. For instance, we were drilled to walk at all times between classes, never run. We were supposed to be young ladies after all, and apparently young ladies don’t run, unless they were on the hockey field or netball court. The school was very strict and had lots of petty rules, such as the proper length of your skirt hem which was determined by kneeling on the floor, and no brightly colored ribbons to be worn in your hair, only dark green or brown, and once your hair touched your shoulders, then it was considered “long” and therefore had to be worn in a ponytail. Actually, it wasn’t really “long” at that point, it was on its way to being long, it was still growing, so putting it into a ponytail often looked messier than leaving it loose. I could go on and on. But one thing that we always did when we arrived at school every morning was to greet the head mistresses at the gate, and shake hands with them. If you did not look them right in the eye and give a firm handshake in return, you were in trouble. But I have to say, the one thing I got from that compulsory ritual is that to this day, I cannot stand a “wet fish” handshake, so they had a valid point with that one.  I mean, a handshake can be very telling, and the impression given from a firm handshake is vastly different from that of a wet fish – think about it.

In the meantime, wishing all you Libras Happy Birthday!

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