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Pleased to Make Your Acquaintance

Text by: Jacque Crosswell Watene, Co-Editor-in-Chief

I was taught a few simple rules of etiquette as a child, but truthfully, the whole system of propriety never made much sense to me; probably because I was never taught the reason it was important to behave that way. I have early memories of my mother admonishing me to chew my food with my mouth closed, place my napkin on my lap, and not to use my fingers to scoop the last morsels of my meal onto my spoon. I also remember my father pulling me aside one day to privately inform me that a ‘lady’ should always keep her knees close together when sitting (an idea that struck me as down-right strange, since I had been raised in a household with nine younger brothers. Why did I have to sit thusly when my brothers could rough-house, wrestle, and sit any-which-way they liked?). And I even remember my poor mother blushing and apologizing profusely to the unfortunate woman whose pudgy mid-section my five-year-old finger pointed to as I declared, “Look! That lady has a baby in her tummy!” I was scolded for my rudeness, though I hadn’t any real sense of what I’d said that was so impolite. Why all the oppressive rules? It wasn’t until years later, as a young adult sitting in a Sunday School class (with my knees close together, of course), that I realized there was much more to "etiquette" than I had previously been taught. The man teaching the class seemed as though he wanted to say something to us in order to make a certain point, but expressed his concern that if he plainly said what he felt, he feared he would offend some of the audience. He struggled for a moment before coming to a resolve and then addressing the audience by again saying, “Well, I suppose I could say this in front of ‘polite society’, so I’m sure it will be alright here, too.” At that point, my mind turned off. I had no idea what he said after this, as my mind was so fixed on his use of the term “polite society,” and the implication that he didn’t consider us, his own church-going peers, a part of that society. What could he have meant by this? Were we not well-mannered people? Were we not fancy enough to be included in the “polite club”? I needed those words “polite society” to make sense to me. It took a few years before I could stop thinking about this experience. I dove headfirst into studying the how’s, when’s, where’s, and why’s of etiquette. I searched history books and etiquette training books. I even sought the advice of decorum gurus. What I found was a bunch of silly, ridiculous rules, so I had to dig even deeper before I could get to the heart of what I was looking for — before I discovered what those elusive words that had plagued me for so long really meant. There was a time when the words “polite society” were used to describe an elitist group of people, usually wealthy to some degree, who prided themselves on keeping and practicing the governing rules of etiquette and social proprieties, something they felt set them apart from the “common” people. The irony of this misguided notion is that this was not the original intention with which the rules of good social graces were created. They were, in fact, established for the sole intention of giving guidelines as assistance to all men, women, and children to become more thoughtful and caring of others; to place the needs and comfort of their fellow Earth-mates at the same level, or even above, their own; and to be more aware of others, and less consumed with the self. It is thus, the original purpose for which etiquette was truly intended, of which we have chosen to honor throughout the Polite Society Magazine. It is our goal to inform this modern society of proper civility and its true purpose. We have taken the name “Polite Society” as a reminder that we are actively living our lives to become the best version of ourselves. It is our hope that we will become more gracious, conscious individuals and that we will sow the seeds of deeper awareness, understanding, and compassion for humanity so that all may reap the benefits of our good intentions.