June 2016 Newsletter – Can We Restore Grace?

In the past few weeks I’ve been reading Sarah L. Kaufman’s book,The Art of Grace.  This isn’t about grace we might associate with the royals, but every day grace. At initial glance one might find her comments off putting, but upon a deeper read, I recognize that our culture may be honestly observed as that of unmannered, unempathetic, hurrying, and competitive animatrons.

The biggest pill to swallow is Kaufman’s entire chapter subtitled, “How the Baby Boomers Derailed Centuries of Manners Instruction.” She suggests that instruction in grace dropped out of our lives after the baby boomers rebelled against the strictness of rules which had been cultural guideless for all civilizations. What was known as the social graces were not only of ancient times and the Renaissance, but of American colonists, and early twentieth-century people who were taught and grew up with appropriate ways to behave and show respect to others.

You only need turn on the TV to witness the poorest example of manners–politicians spewing accusations and name calling of each other. But there are more every-day examples than that.  I went to a matinee to see a great movie of somber content, yet four women in front of me laughed and talked loudly throughout the entire movie. Asking them to be quiet only produced more laughter and ill behavior. Yes, they were also baby boomers.

Recently my daughter attended an industry business training presentation. Several tables had an empty chair and as she went from table to table to find one seat, she was repeatedly told, “No, this is taken,” but there was no indication that it was in any way taken and the chairs remained empty through the evening. If the catty behavior of the women wasn’t enough, they rudely talked and laughed throughout the speaker’s presentation. This event was about business women in this particular industry,– about unity, community, inclusiveness and collaboration.

You know very well we are not just directing poor behavior at the female gender. Sadly, it isn’t uncommon to have a man opening a door to admit himself, but not enough to prevent it from closing in your face as you enter behind him. Many men tend to be more aggressive or rude drivers. Men’s voices are, not always but generally, louder when talking on a phone in a public place, as if business calls during lunch at the next table is acceptable noise.

Before church, large screens in the front of the sanctuary displayed the following: “As you enter this room for service, please do so quietly and be considerate of those around you who may be in prayer.” You can be sitting in bowed prayer and people will initiate loud discussion around you in total dismissal of you or what you are obviously doing.

Mrs. Kaufman notes that founding fathers such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams strove for “inner self-improvement, moral perfection, and …worked methodically to acquire a list of virtues.” We strive to simply  acquire  …more.  Shopping became the “means of self-betterment.” Amid more informal lifestyles, social graces were replaced with unprecedented rebelling youth. Looking back to the mid-40’s and a nation full of babies, everyone turned to Benjamin Spock as the man with the most wisdom and influence regarding the right way to rear a child. He said, “Since people like children with ‘sensibly good’ manners, parents owe it to their children to make them likable.” He also added, “Good manners come naturally if a child feels good about himself.” Thus began the birth of immense narcissism, again replacing grace, manners, consideration and respect for others.

“What has most threatened grace is what I can only describe as a culture of coarseness,” writes Kaufman. “Reality TV thrives on disgrace. Internet outrage has become a fact of life. We are in an environment of taking advantage, taking control, taking for oneself.”  Grace, on the other hand, is associated with giving.

Kaufman concludes with saying, “Grace is a way of connecting with one another as we spin forward in this world that is indifferent and so often cruel.”  “Slow down. Practice tolerance and compassion. Take time to listen and understand. Make room for others. Notice those around you. Strive to make things easy for people, even in small ways.  Be generous. Practice extreme noticing. Look for grace where you least expect it.”

In recent years millennials have been labelled negatively for their apathy and other questionable qualities, but if born into flawed influences, and without better examples to live by, what might you expect? However, maybe we can hold hope that this will be the generation to change attitudes towards each other, and ultimately make broad and positive differences—inspiring and influencing the rest of us to tip the scales toward more consideration and respect for each other. It could happen!

“Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.”  -David Spangler