Archive for the 'manners' Category

New Year’s resolution

December 28, 2013

About a week ago it occurred to me to make a New Year’s resolution, and to resolve to work on trying to be more pleasant and less reactive under stress (in situations I find stressful, that is).

The universe gave me an opportunity to work on this the other day, even before the New Year begins, when I got my telephone bill and it contained a price increase.

My phone/internet service arrangement had come up for renewal and renegotiation this past August, and the matter had been a protracted mess, in part because somebody working for the company had made an unauthorized change to my services.  It took a lot of lengthy phone calls to get things sorted out.

I had not thought I would have to revisit my relationship to my carrier until next August, but they raised the price for my internet service, apparently, in this latest bill.

This blog post is going to be about reactivity and pleasantness, but let me first sketch out that, long story short, the phone/internet service provider actually had given me a price guarantee for a year, back in August, and now they are saying they will honor it (although I won’t see that they are following through on this claim until my next bill — in the meantime, they did give me a credit on this bill for the difference in prices, though).  The guarantee was for a slightly higher price than what they had been charging me, because they had also given me promotional coupons for a year, but I was willing to budge on that issue because, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure why I had ended up with that lower price.  The guaranteed price is below what they were billing with the new, increased price on the bill I most recently received.

Anyway, back to my reaction.  I was indignant and upset that I would have to spend time on this issue again so soon, I wanted to push it off my plate and I resented that someone had plopped it on my plate.  So when I encountered the first scripted response of “We can do this, you don’t have a contract,” I felt frustrated. And I felt the asymmetry of the relationship, I felt I was being “done to,” and I felt victimized.  When that happens, I think I tend to express anger in my tone of voice and I tend to interrupt.  I think I did all that.

I suspect it’s sort of to compensate for feeling I have a lack of effective tools at my disposal to fight back with.  I was indignant about a mid-year-ish price increase, and my argument was about how I had not been aware that my price could go up and had understood that it wouldn’t for a year from the deal we had agreed on.  I think I tried for a bit to argue from general principles about why I didn’t think I should be subject to this increase, but all I got was scripted responses and a list of new options, none of which I liked.  I did subside and said I would need some time to think over my options, and the conversation ended pleasantly enough, but I had gotten testy in the middle of it, I believe.

Later that day I went back to look at my notes from the August negotiations and I saw that because I had been “put into my bundle by a manager,” the price was guaranteed for a year even though there was not contract.

When I called back at that point, I got a representative who was even more scripted, but I had the right lines;  her script allowed her to respond to my manager’s guarantee by going to her supervisor, and we got back to my guaranteed  price and to “yes” — in part because their file notes showed the guarantee and in part, apparently, because of what my deal had been before August, information they actually had to ask me to supply them with.

I learned from this that had I not reacted with such emotion to the fact of having to deal with this at all, I could have gotten all my ducks lined up before I made the first call and possibly gotten the matter settled to my satisfaction with one call and without getting testy.  That I didn’t has something to do with getting too drained by my work on behalf of my dad’s estate and on behalf of my mother, and on behalf of my children.  In all those cases, I seem to be the only one available to help, and while I don’t take on every aspect of the tasks — I avail myself of professionals and I insist these other family members do, too, like financial managers, social workers, academic advisers, etc. — it leaves me too drained to take things, like straightening out the telephone bill, with equanimity.

So, part of the solution, in theory, is to take better care of myself so I am not on the verge of being too frazzled when a new issue comes along for my attention.  Part of it is to at least train myself to put in a pause and take time to observe that yes, I am reacting and not taking the time to address the issue methodically and calmly, in my hurry to just push it away.  Part of it is to train myself to use tools other than my tone of voice — I think I resort to tone when the content of my words does not get through the first two or three times I try.  Part of it is faith — to have some faith that the issue will not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of making my workload impossible, that I have some support even if I have no spouse or relatives to provide respite help to me with what’s on my plate.

The bill is, as I said, supposedly being revised to meet my price guarantee, Jonas has lined up a new place to live in the spring, Jordan has chosen new spring semester courses, my mother has accomplished her transaction before the end of the calendar year, the estate has been largely settled.  I don’t have nothing to show for my efforts (in these and other current matters), but my “serenity” has taken a hit.  And that is what I want to figure out, how to accomplish this stuff with less “drag” on the system.


What does the etiquette book say?

October 10, 2013

My mother has an anecdote about learning on the spot the etiquette for going through a receiving line at a socialite’s wedding.  One of the older women receiving the guests gave her a prompt for what she was supposed to say in response.  She was college age at the time.  She appreciated the prompt.

My mother had the advantage of realizing from the details of the situation that she was being called upon to do something, and the nature of a receiving line — its length — allowed her to climb the learning curve successfully during the episode.

I think sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances in which we don’t think of the appropriate response until we are descending the staircase afterwards.

I think it’s a mistake to think of this situation as an example of a failed imitation of the receiving line scenario I just described, during which there was time to learn, regroup, and respond as necessary.  Instead it is another sort of opportunity, one in which we are being asked to learn a different skill, I think.

I suspect it will be a new skill, not mere repetition of what we usually do and have done before, that we will find we are being asked to learn.  And, of course, we can not learn it, we can fail to recognize it, refuse to do it, etc.  We can mistake it for something it isn’t, especially if to make this mistake would support our trying to put our onus onto another person.

Sometimes I have figured out what to do in puzzling situations by taking the advice an elderly lady, who was my predecessor as treasurer for the Afro-American Society of Arlington gave me years ago.  She said her husband suggested she do the thing she was avoiding.  The example she gave me was revisiting her childhood home after her mother died.  She hadn’t wanted to do it, but it helped when she did do it, finally.

At the time, I was grappling with bereavement, and what I was avoiding was buying myself a necklace.  Sounds strange, but the two turned out to be connected, and buying myself a necklace freed something up and I was able to move on to a new step in the grieving process.

Costella didn’t try to tell me what to do or tell me what I was avoiding, that work was mine.  She gave me a process:  identify what you’re avoiding and try doing it.

In another example, I was avoiding having a difficult conversation with a relative.  In one instantiation of the pattern, I asked someone else to help me with the conversation, and I regretted the results.  Not surprisingly, the opportunity came around again, and this time I took the bull by the horns and did it myself.  It was rough.  On me and on the relative.  But I think it was necessary, for both of us.

I actually think we see people and even groups going through this in the public sphere.  They try the same thing over and over, and then they try doing what they have been avoiding and the pattern resolves.  But it takes gumption to take the road they are avoiding.

Learning a new skill and moving through our lives can involve accepted etiquette.  It can also involve diving deep within ourselves and discerning what we should be doing through that process instead.  I suspect making the transition from one method to the other is a difficult learning experience in itself.

Thank-you note

December 24, 2011

Where are my manners?

(I actually recently photocopied a few pages of our 1956 edition of Emily Post for someone I know who wanted to know how to address the minister of a church, so I am not above consulting the codes.  Here’s something I think is probably not covered by such things, and I guessed at: this person who asked about how to address the minister has had the same kind of very aggressive cancer my husband died of within weeks of being diagnosed.  He’s talked to me about his cancer and treatment and I’ve watched him go through the impacts of his treatments.  He’s better now.  He knows my husband died of cancer.  I’ve never told him it was the same kind.)

Anyway, I wanted to thank my friends at the NYTimes for sending me links to my comments in their old-style format (my computer would thank you too if it had the wherewithal) — it always makes me smile and feel welcome — and for all their other kindnesses, as well.  They do not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

‘Tis the season, hope it’s a happy one for all,