Manners Matter Even More in Hard Times
The Stress-Rudeness Cycle
and How to Break It
When a crisis occurs in our lives, whether it's personal like a hard to hear diagnosis, or financial trouble, or it's felt communally like the COVID-19 pandemic it can be hard to know how to engage. Either in telling people the hardship you're experiencing and allowing help to come in, or in reaching out and offering support. Some of us withdraw and other seek help. No matter the type of person you tend to be in a crisis, stress often leads to rudeness which can easily bring more stress to a situation. You can see how this cycle can be hard to break. But at the heart of it is how we are choosing to behave and treat each other during adverse times.
Below are some things to consider when times get hard. Both for those experiencing the hardship and those around them. Often times a little bit of self-reflection and the encouragement to reach out and engage with some classic etiquette traditions and tools can be all that's need to help turn a cycle of stress and rudeness into a moment of a support and relief.
Stress is the main cause of rude and abusive behavior. And unfortunately stress can easily lead to rudeness. When we are stressed we often feel a need to not feel this way as soon as possible and this lack of patience can lead us to react to others (or address others) without thinking first and taking consideration and respect into account. This can lead to more stress and further the cycle of stress, rudeness, stress. Frustrating as this may be, knowing it, can help you recognize it and try to break the cycle by focusing on your own behavior and actions toward others. This is true whether you're the one instigation or whether you're the one reacting to someone else's stress-rudeness cycle.
Evaluate your behavior. To help stop the stress-rudeness cycle we need to be able to see our own behavior. Were you just yelling? Did you spout off without giving someone else a chance to explain or share their perspective? These would be signs that you need stop, look at your own behavior and make adjustments. Sometimes leaning into etiquette can be useful: remember to use your magic words like please and thank you, or excuse me and I'm sorry. Taking a deep breath and speaking at a normal volume can help de-escalate a situation whether you are the instigator or are just responding. By not allowing your own actions and words to contribute to the stress of the moment, you're helping to break that stress-rudeness cycle.
Manners can move you forward. When anxiety or uncertainty is the issue at hand, sometimes leaning into traditional manners can help show us a way forward. If a friend from your yoga class has just lost her father and you aren't sure of how to help or support her during this time, leaning into the custom of offering your condolences or writing a condolence/sympathy note can provide you with an actionable, traditional form of support that others will recognize and understand. While offering to help drive her kids to school, or bring over dinner (the classic casserole) are also well meaning and good, if they feel too personal for the relationship, or aren't things you're able to offer, knowing the tradition of writing a condolence note can come as a relief. The same is true when you aren't sure what to do. When someone you care about has a problem, or is facing an issue that you cannot solve for them, leaning on our good listening skills can sometimes be the biggest support we can offer. Simple manners like keeping eye contact (if possible) when you speak with them. Turning off your cell phone or putting it away while you are together, and asking them questions that pertain to them (like, "What would be helpful to you right now?"), rather than replying with "you should..." or "I would..." without having been asked for your opinion, are all good conversation etiquette skills that will serve you well when someone you know is going through a hard time.
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