On how to be Polite

The awkward actor is doing a recital badly, tripping over his lines as Cyrano. All his friends are there to support him, and one literal-minded friend leans to his neighbor to say, “His performance is merely adequate. Why is everyone applauding so much?”

“It’s polite,” comes the reply.

Our thanksgiving holiday has a lot of traditions. Politeness is one.

It is also a tradition that women make the food, and women remind everyone of the traditions. Women are especially concerned with politeness.

In Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered, the authors talk about true crimes. They have a successful podcast on the topic and could not avoid noticing that women are so often murder victims. There is not an easy answer for how to protect oneself, woman or not, from murderers. But one of them told her story:

She was young, and was in the cool part of town. She met some new people, and the one guy was very interested in her dreams of acting and modeling. He told her she was a natural, and that he was a photographer. He had his equipment with him and knew the perfect spot to take her pictures.

She got in the car. I barely need to fill in the details. She did not get murdered, but she was taken to a remote spot and the photographer persuaded her to take her clothes off for the camera.

After she got back, she sobbed. This was not what she wanted. So many steps along the way she had gone against her instincts and wishes because of her overriding desire to be polite.

Polite does not deserve that primacy. Politeness does not require self-immolation.

We get to protect ourselves. Politeness can and should include “no.”

At thanksgiving, I can say no. I can politely say No thank you.”

I can impolitely say NO.

Hell No.

There are ways to do it. Politeness is not nearly as important as love, really. In my first story, the actor’s recital got applause because the audience loved him and was encouraging him.

Love holds the door open. I can say politely with love, “I don’t agree with you, but I love you. I need to talk about something different.” That leaves the door open. The other side might slam it shut. Everyone is allowed to make their choices. I’m also allowed to choose to leave if my needs are ignored.

Politeness exists in relationship. And relationship is two ways. It creates something new out of what we bring to it. Stiff self-denying politeness often ends in tears. I’ve had more than one thanksgiving that left me feeling betrayed.

I think the betrayal started with myself. When I learned to ask for what I need, it opened the gates to better outcomes. My new tradition for my loved ones is seconds on what we need.

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