Civility, Etiquette

Excuse Me, Excuse Me, Pardon Me, Excuse Me

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be a member of the “Hugh Jackman in Concert” show at the Princess of Wales theatre in Toronto.  (AMAZING by the way) My seat was in the middle section of the orchestra;  a couple of seats in from the aisle.  I was stuck in some traffic on the way in so I was entering the theatre later than hoped but still in plenty of time to get to my seat and settle in.  Many people were already there and seated.  When I came to my row, I had to inconvenience some fellow “Hugh” fans by slipping past them to get to my seat.  I once read somewhere that it was considered proper etiquette to face those who you were passing so you could excuse yourself face-to-face.  I’ve followed that rule for many years but have NEVER seen anyone else do the same.  Not-to-mention, it has always made me feel awkward.  But, believing that I was practicing the “proper etiquette”, my choice was to face those I slithered past despite feeling uncomfortable.

I’ve often wondered about that rule, however.  Why don’t others do as I do and look fellow audience members in the eye when they clamber to their position?  Could it be that I misunderstood what I read many years ago and it isn’t proper to face them?  I decided to post a question on one of the social networks that I belong to and I was overwhelmed at the response I received.  A few agreed with me, that facing people when stepping over them was proper.  It was easier to see where you were stepping and apologies could be more readily heard.  My favourite comment in support of my view was “who really wants a posterior in one’s face”.

Many felt the more acceptable practice was to apologize making eye contact and then to turn and face forward.  It was noted that it might be an invasion of personal space because of the proximity when passing over someone.  There were also mentions of the practicality of facing forward; one could hold on the seat in front and it was easier to feel for footing.   One brought up a great point – it wouldn’t be considered good manners to fall in someone’s lap or grab their knees if facing them.

The consensus, however, was to consider the culture and the environment one was in and use discretion.   Considering the audience on this particular night, was anticipating the stage arrival of 2008’s Sexiest Man Alive, I figured no one really cared how I got to my seat.    In keeping with the class of this most talented performer, however, I politely smiled at his audience members, excused myself,  faced forward and made my way to my position.  It was one of the most incredible nights of entertainment I have ever experienced.


The 4-way Stop

Growing up, I learned from my mother that 4-way stops were to be avoided at all cost. I think when I was about 13, the first one was introduced to my small town and the usual route to the mall became taboo because of that new 4-way stop. I asked mom why we didn’t go “the usual” way anymore and she explained that the new 4-way stop made it too difficult to figure out who had the right-of-way.  She said if you went out-of-turn, it made people angry and life was stressful enough so best to avoid it altogether.  Having no experience with driving at that time, I took what she said to be the gospel and got used to taking the “new” route to the mall.

When I learned to drive a few years later at 16, I thought I’d test my mom’s theory – after all, I had gone through Driver’s Education and  was the best driver in the world.  The first  few attempts were problem-free as I was the only driver at the stopping point.  It wasn’t long though, before I could see what my mother was talking about.  When more than one driver arrived at the stop,  there were individual’s who went before they should have and those who sat and waited for everyone else to go first.  This made it difficult for the rest to know when it was their turn.  I saw fists shake, horns sound, engines rev and one person stopped in the middle of the  4-way intersection, got out of his car in protest at another’s expressed displeasure in his choice to go first.  

I had forgotten about this driving dilema until a colleague told her story the other day.  She mentioned she came to a busy 4-way stop and wasn’t sure when it was her turn.  Feeling pressured she touched the gas, proceeded and realized too late that she was out-of-turn.   Aware of her mistake, she turned to the driver that she went ahead of and made eye contact.  She slowly and distinctly mouthed the word “SORRY” as she continued, fully expecting to get the middle-finger salute.  To her surprise, the driver very clearly mouthed back, “It’s OKAY”, smiled and waved her through.  “So simple and insignificant” she said but it made her day.  It made mine too.  There can be civillity at the 4-way stop.   If everyone could accept mistakes will happen and simply smile and wave as this gentleman did, maybe people like my mother wouldn’t have to find alternate routes to avoid stress.

Civility, Etiquette

Graduation Season

As the summer approaches, so does the season of graduation ceremonies.  I helped usher at one the other day for the educational institute that I work for . It is a wonderful occasion for graduates and their families to commemorate meeting the requirements of graduation and setting forth into the world with official documentation that shows they now know something about something. I love to assist with this event because the celebratory spirit that accompanies it is intoxicating. And it  is  so powerful to watch the sea of black as the robed candidates make their way in the processional, to their reserved seats at the front of the auditorium.

It was the perfect occasion to put on my “Civility” hat and take note of the behaviour of those around me. I’m always surprised at how courteous people can be but also at how much others still need to learn about it.  Respect should be the number one thing on everyone’s mind on such an occasion.  For graduates, you are the centre of attention.  People are looking to you with adoration and admiration.  Be excited but be gracious.  Rudely snapping at  officials who are trying to organize the processional line up, isn’t nice, nor appropriate.  Besides, you never know who may be scouting out talent for future employment and making a bad impression on such an important day may cost you more than you think.

For guests, respect the graduates hard-earned recognition by turning off the cell and leaving the business texting for  another, more appropriate time.  This is their moment.  Show your appreciation by being there for them, not only in body but spirit and emotion also.  And talking throughout an award winner’s acceptance speech is unacceptable.  Even though that student may not be the one you came to see, they are up there for a reason and should have your undivided attention.  You may be surprised at what you learn from him/her.


Be the Change You Wish to See

Turn on the television and there is always a news story of devestation, terrorism, bullying and sadness to be heard.  Pick up the paper and if there is a story of despair, no doubt it will have the front page.  There is so much negativity and unpleasantries in the world and our society seems to feed off of it.  I’m constantly hearing snide remarks, complaints, racist comments or venting in my world and sometimes I wish I could just hit a mute button so I could escape this vortex of poison.   There are plenty of studies for sure on the effects of stress, trauma and negativity on the human specimen and just as much information about how shifting our perspective and intentionally looking for “the silver lining on every cloud” can improve quality of life and longevity.  So why aren’t we doing more as a society to promote positivity, happiness and civility?

That’s where I come in.  One of my favourite mantra’s is “Be the change you wish to see”.  So I’m going to do my part and practice what I preach.  I’m going to do my best to make this world a better place.  By making choices that take others feelings into consideration and taking into account the world around me I will aim to spread goodness and positivity .  I also set out to help others understand how they too can make their lives and ultmately everyone else’s, much more fulfilling by learning to be, look and act more civilly.  Hence, I’ve started this blog to get the word out and offer advice, comments and general information about this important topic.


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