I enter the last days of my deadline race, so the blog may be a poor and shadowy thing for a while. I apologise for that. It is not just a matter of time; it is that I am thinking so damn hard about the book that my brain shuts up shop at a certain point, and there is nothing left. It still baffles me that the silent act of thinking can be so physically enervating, but it is. I get to a point where I can no longer function on any but the most basic level.
I’ve been thinking today about politeness, and why it matters. As the world news is so terrifying, so cruel and so big, manners might seem almost worse than irrelevant, a tiny blip in the vast and surging sea of dark reality.
But I do think that courtesy matters. I think it speaks of the Golden Rule. I think it is about empathy, about trying to think your way into the shoes of another, perhaps the ultimate act of good manners. I think it has a profound existential point – life is hard and unfair and random and sometimes filled with grief and pain, so why would you add to that if you do not have to?
Someone was rude to me last week. In the grand scheme of things, it was an event so small that it could hardly be seen by the naked eye. Yet, it keeps coming back to haunt me. It is like a little splinter under the skin, nudging and scratching and throbbing.
It came at a time when I am a little flayed, and my defences are down. Fret about this book leaves me vulnerable, my heart is sore from the shouting over Scottish separation, I had a bit of a bug and am still physically shaky. I am rather like my red mare, who can deal with one unexpected stimulus, and then two, but finds the third one pushes her over the edge, so that I have to be very strong and comforting and reliable to keep her on an even keel.
The act of bad manners will bother me for a while and soon I shall return to equanimity. I shall talk myself down off the ceiling. But if it were not for the lack of thought or courtesy from that person, I should not have to. I am wasting valuable emotional energy on fixing something which did not need to be fixed. The rudeness came from carelessness and badly-chosen words, sentences flung out with no conception of the effect they would have. It was not the end of the world and had no profundity. All the same, it detracted from the sum total of human happiness rather than adding to it. This seems to be a small but potent waste.
I like manners because they are useful. They make people feel better, not worse. They often bring out the better angels of those who are on the receiving end. They can have a lovely virtuous domino effect, a delightful paying forward – if you are kind and charming and polite to someone, they will often be polite and thoughtful to the next person. They are positive, rather than negative.
I know that some people think that politeness is old-fashioned and pointless, even bogus. But I am a little old school, in some ways. My mother taught me manners, when I was a little girl, and I thank her for them daily. I do not always live up to her high strictures, but I try. I think that matters, even when the world is so oppressed.
So sorry, no time for the camera today. Besides, dear old Scotland is shrouded in the dourest dreich. Just a moment for this shot of my sweet red girl, who is as polite as a Jane Austen heroine:
I admit I did spend a lot of time teaching her manners, but she was a quick study, because she has such a good and gentle heart.