The most incredibly breathtaking example I have ever encountered was the response I once received from a colleague to whom I offered a simple ‘good morning’. Her response which is seared verbatim into my brain was: “Good morning? Good morning? I haven’t got time to go around wishing people good morning.” The fact that it actually took her longer to say that than it would have to simply follow the conventions of a polite society was lost on her.
This was some years ago and I have dined out on the anecdote since then but it is rather alarming that this kind of behaviour is not as freakishly unusual as it should be. More and more, I am finding myself wondering if people have some undiagnosed form of autism, only to be left with the conclusion that no, in fact, they are just rude.
I’m a stickler for manners and not really known for my tolerance of poor behaviour but this is something quite different. It is the intrinsic inability to understand how to get on with other people. These individuals don’t seem to understand that life is much easier if you work effectively with others rather than rubbing everybody up the wrong way. There are basic rules that we all have to follow in order for society to flow but some people just don’t get it.
The weird thing is these social misfits often care deeply that other people don’t want to be around them but it’s as if the rules that everybody else has had drilled into them since birth somehow never stuck with them. They haven’t latched onto the principle of cause and effect and the fact that how you treat other people matters.
Social skills don’t demand that you are perfect but they do require you to admit your failings and when you get it wrong to apologise. I have lots of failings; I am not a morning person and can barely function before 10am, I’m intolerant and bad tempered, somehow though I still manage to get along just fine with others because I am happy to admit that I am a lazy, moody grouch.
There are simple rules that have to be followed to ensure smooth interaction with others. The main one, in my opinion, is general politeness and treating other people with consideration and respect. It’s appalling how many people don’t seem to have please and thank you in their lexicon. I have frequent set-tos with kids in the classroom on this very issue only to be told that saying please is a sign of weakness; God only knows where they get these messages.
A sense of humour will also get you a lot of mileage where other people are concerned. The ability to laugh at ourselves and the ridiculous situations in which we might find ourselves, allows us to form instant connections with other people. I love it when I meet someone as inept as I am and will immediately forgive them any mistakes or wrong doings just so long as they are open and honest and happy to laugh at themselves.
Kindness is another prerequisite to forming connections with others. There is nothing so ugly or unappealing as cruelty and yet there are still people who mistake it for wit or a way of elevating themselves within a group. The simple truth is once you are passed the age of twelve if you can’t see that bullying is crass and pathetic then frankly you are an idiot and deserve to be a social outcast.
The real key to being socially adept is being happy in your own skin. Truly successful people don’t need to prove themselves by pretending to be more important or busy than other people or by eschewing social niceties as a form of weakness. They aren’t afraid to show kindness and empathy because they are confident in the knowledge that these are the qualities which, in the end, make us successful human beings.