Have you heard the expression “acting ugly”? It’s something I learned from my grandmother as a young girl. Though she rarely spoke disapproval, there were times when something really struck her as inappropriate and she would say firmly, “That is so ugly.” Or she’d utter just one word, “Ugliness.”
During one of her visits, I was in trouble with my parents (goodness knows what I’d done!) and had gone to my room, slamming the door behind me. My grandmother knocked on my previously slammed door and came into my bedroom. She said, “Candace, you are acting very ugly. Please stop it.” Then she left the room and closed the door quietly. I was devastated by her disapproval and began looking at my behavior and situation a lot differently, rather than as a victim of mean parents.
I loved thinking of myself as being my grandmother’s darling. Now I felt as if I’d lost her approval forever. “Acting ugly” was not how I wanted to be seen by her. I learned that I needed to change my attitude if I wanted to change her perception.
It is not unusual to have your first impression of someone change in an instant, though it can be surprising in some circumstances. Everything seems pleasant or understandably right with the person. Then something happens, perhaps harsh or shocking words spoken, or disrespectful actions are brought to light and suddenly the person “looks different” in your eyes.
There are many factors that cause us to change our perceptions of a person’s appearance or character in our mind. A person’s negative words or bad behavior in the eyes of a perceiver can make it seem that the person is less attractive or competent overall. In other words, the beauty factor of a person can be diminished by actions of perceived inappropriateness.
Thus etiquette. Our brains are wired to prefer beautiful actions, to like nice people and dislike rude people. We have a natural understanding that polite and kind behavior will always be preferred. Our experience teaches us that we definitely want to reduce the ugliness factor in ourselves.
The bottom line is that acting ugly is nearly always a reaction to a situation or event. One example is my anecdote above. Had I not reacted negatively to being disciplined or not getting my way, I wouldn’t have been called out by my grandmother.
So, how can we avoid reacting – or acting – negatively and keep that ugliness factor at bay? The following suggestions have been helpful for me:
Ugliness and beauty are abstractions and they exist side by side depending on how deeply we look. Both ultimately tie into attitude.
Our etiquette-ful choices have a lot to do with how we are perceived by others. Making a positive impression might not be in our control, but we can aim to improve ourselves. And that is a beautiful intention!