Polite Reciprocals of Etiquette

Coworkers Discussing a File

Polite reciprocals are all around us if we take a moment to notice them. Reciprocity is one of the foundations of etiquette and is a natural show of being agreeable and respectful.  

I was shopping in our local mall and overheard a mother say to her son, “Charlie, thank you for next time thinking before you speak.” He smiled, and then replied, “I understand, Mom. Thank you for reminding me nicely not to blurt out whatever’s in my head!”  She smiled and nodded.  It was obviously an issue they were working on together and I felt happy witnessing the agreeability between these two people.  It was a reminder that etiquette allows humans to interact with each other without needing to specify every detail of the parameters of each interaction.  I had witnessed a reciprocation of polite understanding.  

Choosing to assume an air of agreeability anchors the way we meet the world and those in it, whether they are family, close friends, other professionals, or complete strangers.  

If someone is unkind or rude to the person in line just before us, we empathize with the one treated poorly.  If we witness someone treating the person in line at the store kindly, we feel pleasure in seeing it.  Just as we naturally feel pleasure when someone is considerate towards us, out of the gratitude we feel for their intentional act, we know to reciprocate kindly in return. This understanding adds up as appreciation for polite agreeability.

Daily Polite Reciprocals

Have you noticed that so many things are done for us each day by various people?  And of course, we say, “Thank you!”

Parents throughout history have taught us this.  Our childhood friends and others throughout our lives re-enforce that not sharing, not taking turns, or not acknowledging others is not okay. 

Our sociality is learned as we engage in the back and forth of polite reciprocals that make for civil society.  It is a continual learning process.  It doesn’t just stick!

  • A person offers you a handshake, and you extend your hand, or offer a virtual handshake.
  • A door is opened for you and you acknowledge, “How thoughtful!”  You then look for ways to let others go first. 
  • The elevator door opens and a woman on the right, closest to the door, extends her arm across the door to allow others to exit first.  There is a pouring forth of thank-yous!  Feels good to be a part of it. 
  • After acknowledging a lovely dinner at a friend’s house with a thank you note, you look forward to the time when you can host.  
  • You can tell someone is really listening to you by the short positive comments she makes on things you didn’t realize you said.  You then intentionally aim to listen to what others are saying as you might have something positive to say about what they shared.  You want to pay it forward.
  • Your gift of lemons for a neighbor is returned with a gift of lemon bars. 
  • A surprise gift with an owl card enclosed arrives in the mail from someone who knows you love owls.  And you wonder, “What can I give back to let this person know how grateful I am for their kindness?” 
  • Your friend notices that you might need some help with your computer as it’s a new one.  You look for opportunities to offer someone a helping hand.   

Our daily polite reciprocals are about noticing what’s going on outside of ourselves, whether we are physically out and about or at home responding to messages.  Someone else is on the other side of each of us!  Mindfulness plays its role, too, as being fully aware of what’s going on helps us know when to step in with a pause, and consciously choose to be polite, even if we think that we’d rather not.

Practice is Required

We never know exactly what another person is truly feeling or experiencing, but following a law of humankind, we know that what we say and do can matter for the good.  Somehow, the more we aim to be aware, the greater the opportunities will come in which we can choose to be an agreeably pleasant and at the same time, honest, person.  I sometimes think it’s because the great author of nature is trying to help us get things right.

Expressing polite reciprocals implies that you are aware, alert, and mindful of extending respect and kindness, even if these actions don’t always come to you automatically.  Sophocles once said, “Kindness begets kindness evermore.” 

It always comes back to the Golden Rule we learn as youngsters.  Treat other people as you would like to be treated.  With graciousness, kindness, and as a good sport.  Certainly, something to aim for.



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