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What Makes a Lady & Gentleman

Text by: Jacque Crosswell Watene

Life be not so short, but that there is always room for courtesy.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you hear the word "Lady", what do you think of? Do pearls and pleated skirts-down-to-the-knee come to mind? Gloves and hats and handbags with matching pumps? How about the word "Gentleman"? Do you imagine a stuffy older man in a double-breasted suit, hair parted and combed to the side, a solemn expression pinned to his pasty face? Maybe you picture pretty 19th century girls in gowns and dandies in top hats.

While these images can most certainly connote the appearance of a lady or a gentleman, they certainly are not the sole descriptions of a genteel person. True ladies and gentlemen can be found in the most unlikely of places—and likewise can be nowhere in sight in places where one would most expect them. Ladies and Gentlemen can be found wearing jeans and T-shirts, dresses or suits, saris, lava-lavas, designer apparel, rags, Gucci shoes, work boots, or barefoot. They might live in mansions, but are just as likely to reside in humble shacks. Ladies and gentlemen come in every shape, color, creed, and nationality imaginable, from all walks of life.

The bona fide lady or gentleman is any person who puts the comforts and needs of others at or above the same level as their own. These are people who would share their last meal if you were hungry. They are humanitarians in the truest sense of the word. And above all else, ladies and gentlemen are people who make you feel completely at ease in their company. This, more than any other quality, is the true mark of gentility.

So, how do you measure up? Upon meeting someone, is your first thought to create an atmosphere of conviviality and ease? Or are you more concerned with standing out and bragging about your accomplishments, or even complaining about your dissatisfied life? Just pause for a moment and allow the truth to flow forward to your mind, and you will know the answer to that question. Now allow that truth to take the form of hope; hope for what you can become, and hope in how you can better conduct yourself so that others will view you at your best because of how you treat them.

Cultured speech, polished appearance, and education are just the icing on the cake of your character. These things (although important in their own right) can be bought and even faked. But real gentility in the form of respectful kindness and civility must be cultivated into the character with unwavering practice.

Just for today, greet everyone you meet with a friendly smile. Just for today, hold the door open for the person behind you. Just for today, converse with someone and really listen to what they are saying, instead of thinking about what your next response to them will be. Just for today, speak in softer tones to your loved ones. Just for today, let your thoughts match your actions—don't just practice civility and kindness; live it! Just for today, be forgiving of others, and especially of yourself. Just for today, let love resonate in your every thought, word, and action. Each moment that you consciously make the choice to wholly reside in love, you are being a person of true gentility.

When we put this method into practice, gentility will become a natural part of who we are. We will find that our capacity for courtesy will increase to the point that it becomes almost effortless to apply. As the old adage goes, "Treat everyone with politeness, even if they are rude to you; not because they are nice, but because you are."