I picked up this book by Donald McCullough, hoping it might list some of the rules of etiquette that have often puzzled me. Things like: do I hug or shake hands with older ladies that I haven't seen in a long time? Am I supposed to walk visitors out to their cars or wave from the porch? How bad is it to forget my sisters' birthdays? And must I always offer people something to drink when they come over?
This book did much more than answer those questions. It changed the questions that I ask.
When I was about halfway through the book, I took my car to the carwash. My 3-year-old Rose and I stood behind the big panels of glass to watch my CRV slowly drive through the gantlet of spinning wheels and power sprayers. An older man was watching his car go through as well. We chatted for a bit and then I asked him, "Do you usually tip the men who dry your car?"
"Yes," he replied.
"How much do you tip? I never know what I should give."
"Oh, I give $5 or so. I have a larger car . . . but I like to think about how much I would like to be tipped if I were the one drying the car," he smiled in a non-patronizing way and then moved on to the outdoor seating area.
It seemed so simple. Of course that's the way to think about it. It's not about what I should or shouldn't do. It's about considering others. How would I like to be treated?
Certainly the rules of etiquette are different among cultures, but this principal transcends all cultures and personalities: do as you would be done by. Think of others as more important than yourself. And love others as God loves us.
For those who would rather not read the book, here is a summary of each chapter. All quotes are taken from the book Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another.
1) Say Please: Respecting the Freedom of Others
"Please" said in earnest changes the tone of a question. It turns a command into an appeal. "Please" gives up the control to "guarantee the outcome of a situation [and] ensure another person's response." (McCullough, 13) It is a way of giving dignity and freedom to others. It is what God has done for us in giving us freewill. And it is what we in turn must do for others. "Mystery withers at the touch of force. . . . When we treat other people as objects subordinate to our goals, their mystery has no effect on us. The larger mystery into which genuine personal encounter can lead us never becomes open to us" (McCullough as quoting Allen, 16).
2) Say Thank You: Acknowledging Dependence on Others
"When we express gratitude, we experience, however fleeting and brief, a moment of contentment" (McCullough, 19). "If I always move forward to the next task on my agenda without pausing to look back in gratitude to the good things I have been given, I allow my almighty self-importance to blind me to the truth of things: I am completely dependent on others, and every achievement of 'mine' has been won through a team effort" (McCullough, 18).
3) Tell White Lies (Occasionally): Protecting From Unnecessary Hurt
In a time when we have "elevated the personal confession to an art form," it's time to rethink what should and shouldn't be said (McCullough, 25). "Not every truth is [ours] to tell: a truth shared in confidence and a truth that would needlessly hurt another is not [ours] to tell" (McCullough, 27). Thus, before speaking, we must question our motives. Why do we wish to tell this "truth" at this time to this person? "Some motives for telling the truth are simply too destructive to deserve the respectability of being clothed in truth: some expression of 'honesty' are really attempts to demean and belittle another person" (McCullough, 27). If telling the truth will needlessly hurt another, find a way around telling it.
4) Don't Let Your Fingers Do the Talking: Curbing the Violence Within
"Getting through life with other people who never seem to have sufficient sensitivity and good sense can be like running through an obstacle course with constant provocation" (McCullough, 31-32). Thus, we've witnessed the creation of an "express-yourself-and-let-it-all-hang-out culture" (McCullough, 32). If someone angers us on the road or Facebook or in business, we express ourselves in rants or bumper stickers or posts. However, "each outburst of self-justified anger makes it easier for the next one and creates an addicting rush of adrenaline" (McCullough, 34). When we pass on our anger, we create more anger, but when we let other's anger pass us by and return love, we stop the cycle and soften other's hearts.
5) Don't Show Up at the Wedding in a Baseball Cap: Showing Respect in What You Wear
Dressing appropriately shows that you care about the people planned an event and those who attend it.
6) Don't Be Late: Guarding the Time of Others
Respect other's time and don't be late. And if you are late, don't make excuses. Just say sorry.
7) Repondez, S'il Vous Plait: Being Considerate of Others' Plans
"The self-centeredness in me, which creates more trouble than it's worth, makes me insensitive to another person's need to plan and make preparations for an event. If I don't take time to communicate my intentions, it's because I don't want to be bothered with an interruption in my plans for my day in my life. Besides, why get committed to something when I might get a better invitation to a more interesting event with more interesting people? To keep my options open in order to maximize my happiness, I make it difficult for someone else (McCullough, 55). Consider others more important than yourself. RSVP and don't procrastinate in doing it.
8) Wait Until Everyone Is Served Before Picking Up a Fork: Observing the Social Significance of Meals
Make space and time for sharing a meal with others.
9) Keep Your Feet Off the Coffee Table: Valuing the Property of Others
People's possessions are an expression of who they are. Respecting and taking care of others' things is a way of respecting them.
10) Keep Your Bumper Off My Tailpipe: Waiting Your Turn
"Some of the best things in life can be seized only when we relax into an observant idleness" (McCullough, 74). "If the coil of impatience is wound so tightly within me that I elbow my way towards my next goal, I will jab others in the ribs, and though I may be successful shoving them out of my way, I will also have shoved them out of my life and thus shut myself off from their mystery. The best things in life take time to experience; they cannot be seized with impatience but only received with patience" (McCullough, 74). "A pearl, as someone said, is a garment of patience enclosing an annoyance" (McCullough, 74).
11) Hold Your Wind: Trying Not to Offend with Bodily Grossness
12) Pay What You Owe: Rendering Others Their Due
Pay what you owe on time.
13) Keep Your Hands to Yourself: Acknowledging Sexual Boundaries
"The best and most important things in life must be guarded from the fickleness of human appetites and moods" (McCullough, 88). Thus, draw up and stick to boundaries both in what you see, what you wear, and how you speak about sex.
14) Be Quiet In Church: Cultivating a Sense of Reverence
Be appropriately solemn and respectful in sacred places. It is a way of acknowledging that something greater than yourself is at work in the world. Do so even if you don't believe in that particular religion.
15) Don't Wear Red to a Chinese Funeral: Honoring Our Differences
"Learn to express our differences with respect for one another" (McCullough, 103). "Unless you're certain that your culture's way of going about life is superior in all ways and that your understanding of God is perfectly complete, you just might pick up something of value from the traditions and beliefs of others. Even from those with whom you will ultimately disagree. Given the immensity of truth and the limitations of the human mind, we all need a large measure of humility—the humility that opens our eyes and ears and even our hearts to others who, perhaps at first seem very different from us" (McCullough, 103).
16) Apologize When You've Blown It: Accepting Responsibility for Your Failures
"To say I'm sorry—and mean it—is an act of courage by which we hold ourselves accountable to the truth" (McCullough, 110). But don't over or under exaggerate your responsibility in a matter. "The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough (McCullough, 108). If you are going to apologize, first don't apologize too quickly. "A premature apology can be a cheap attempt to cut short the painful work of reconciliation with the person you've wounded" (McCullough, 110). Second, don't exaggerate the apology by treating yourself as mud. Third, back up your apology with actions. And lastly, once the apology is past, drop it. Saying "I'm sorry" is a "way of going forward into the rest of your life" (McCullough 112).
17) Use Nice Stationery: Attending to the Forms of Communications
"How we communicate influences what we communicate" (McCullough 115). Hand-written notes and letters require time and thought to write, and communicate more powerfully than a text or email. Learn to savor words and language by writing in a way that's worth remembering.
18) Close Your Mouth and Open Your Ears: Learning to Be a Good Listener
Listening is a gift we give to others. It expresses to them that their "thoughts are worth something and that maybe, therefore, [they are] worth something [too]" (McCullough, 127). But listening can be very difficult when we're worrying constantly about "buffing the shine on our image and staying in control of the situation" (McCullough 122). "You can't be a self-important sovereign in your little world, pompously proclaiming your wisdom, and expect to hear the voices—from another person's soul or from the angels of heaven. It takes humble openness, careful attentiveness" (McCullough, 128).
19) Be First to Reach for the Tab: Developing a Generous Spirit
Don't wait until you're wealthy to practice generosity. Thank God that you are rich right now. And maybe someday you'll have money (McCullough 132).
20) Leave a Tip Worth Working For: Noticing Those Who Serve
Tip what you would like to be tipped even if your server or barber or car dryer person didn't perform an outstanding job. Consider how you would like to be treated if you'd had a bad day performing your own job. Tips can really say to someone, "I recognize that you have it hard. And I want you to know I value your work."
21) Go Home Before Your Host Falls Asleep: Not Abusing the Gift of Hospitality
Do not be so self-sufficient that you are stuck only giving and never receiving. "Generosity can subtly feed our hunger to dominate, and it can stroke our pride, giving us reasons, so we think, to offer ourselves hearty self-congratulations" (McCullough, 147). Thus, it is vitally important that we learn to receive gifts as well. Let others pay for your meal. Accept gifts and praise and invitations to dinner. It is a way of humbling yourself before others. Also, don't overstay your welcome. Most people won't tell a friend that they've eaten too much or overstayed their welcome. It is up to us to recognize when we've abused others gift of hospitality.
22) Hand Up the Phone During Dinner and at Bedtime: Avoiding Unnecessary Intrusions
Protect your own and others' times of private home life.
23) Kneel Down to Speak with Children: Meeting Others At Their Own Level
Assume a posture of sensitivity towards those who seem weaker than you. "Everyone is weaker than others in one way or other" (McCullough, 161)
24) Respect Your Elders: Honoring Those Who Nurture and Lead
J. Wesley Brown speaking about parents said, "That they did not have total wisdom when they raised us, that they did not always know exactly what to tell us, what to let us do and what to prevent us from doing, does not mean they did not love us and intend to do well by us. Perhaps the greatest honor we can do our parents is to let them down off the pedestal of our imagination, where we are inclined either to idolize them or to flog them as gods who failed (as indeed they must fail), and to accept them as people—people who need forgiveness as well as respect, who need honest relationships with their children perhaps more than anyone else" (McCullough as quoting Brown, 175).
25) Watch What You Say: Understanding the Power of Words
Words can never be taken back. Words play over and over again in our minds. They are powerful. If in doubt, don't say it. "Those who show respect for others are sensitive about these things. They don't take things that are deeply meaningful for others and stomp on them with big, ugly boot of careless language. They watch what they say. They remember words have power; words do things. They employ words for blessing not cursing, for encouragement not discouragement, for creation not destruction" (McCullough, 183).
26) Don't Leave a Messy Campsite: Cleaning Up After Yourself
Think of those who will come after you in this world.
27) Keep a Secret: Earning the Trust of Others
Don't pry for information and don't leak it. Acknowledge that you are not God and you have no need to know more than anyone else.
28) Don't Let Your Dog Romance My Leg: Remembering Not Everyone Shares Your Interests
Your hobbies might be fascinating to you, but they might not be to everyone.
29) Stop Drinking While You Can Still Remember Your Mother's Maiden Name: Bestowing the Benefits of Moderation
30) Stay Out of the Bay Until You Know the Difference Between a Starboard and a Port Tack: Learning and Obeying the Rules of the Road
Stop thinking that you're the one exception to rules and regulations. You are not above the law.
31) Don't Tell Joke at the Expense of Others: Forbearing Humor That Demeans
"By nothing do men show their character more than by the things they laugh at," (McCullough as quoting Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 225). "Laughter liberates us from the self-important delusion that we have everything under control; it puts everything in a more balanced perspective" (McCullough, 232). However, when we laugh at the expense of others, we make ourselves out to be better than them, which we are not.
32) Keep Card Companies in Business: Remembering Milestones
Remember and celebrate. It is a way of saying, "I value you and what you've done."
33) Tell Your Buddy His Fly is Open: Speaking the Truth in Love
Speak the truth to your fellow man when it is pertinent to the situation and when it will build up and not tear down.
34) Pretend You don't Notice When Your Dinner Partner Drools: Guarding the Dignity of Others
While we might be quite good at respecting others, we're bound to make mistakes: silly, careless mistakes. "Let's create between us an invisible buffer zone of grace, a shield mercifully protecting us from the negative judgements of one another" (McCullough, 257). "Yes, people do annoying things. They use obscene gestures, they show up late, they speak before thinking, they forget to say thanks, they spread discourtesy like a mean virus. Most of the time, though, it's because life is difficult for them, too, and they're having a hard time keeping themselves together; they often feel bedraggled and beat up, and for this reason, they've not always as sensitive as they ought to be. Just like you and me" (McCullough, 258-9). "Do your best to be courteous in all circumstances, by all means, but when you blow it, I'll do my best not to notice. And when I blow it, I'll count on your gift of merciful blindness" (McCullough, 259).
35) Wave to Motor Boaters: Strengthening the Bonds of Community
We all have our prejudices against particular groups of people: Harley Davidson bikers, youthful homeless men, insurance salesmen, JW's, Gluten-free dieters, etc. Giving others respect means not turning the cold shoulder to these kinds of people. Notice them as individuals not groups and don't purposefully exclude people from your own "group."
36) Once in Awhile, Be a Slob: Knowing When to Break the Rules
The rules of etiquette shouldn't be a checklist that we use to decide how good we're doing. Our worth rests on the one who gives us worth: God. "Not only are you a God-graced individual, so also is everyone else. The grace that pulled all things into being, also pulled into being the one who just cut you off in traffic, the one who waits on your table, the one who needs special assistance, the one you're tempted to laugh at, and even the one who prefers motor boats. These people, too, have a God-conferred worth, a glory that may be concealed but is nonetheless real. So out of gratitude for the grace offered us, we extend it to others, committing ourselves anew to the canons of courtesy; out of a desire to protect our own God-granted dignity, we act God-like, bestowing kindness on others as we offer the respect they deserve. 'Rules' of courtesy don't create human worth, but they bear witness to it and help protect it." (McCullough, 276).
Allen, Diogenes. Temptation. Cambridge: Cowley, 1986. 62-63
Brown, Wesley J. "Good News for Parents," Christian Century. May 6, 1981.
McCullough, Donald. Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another. Berkley Publishing Group. 1998