Social Graces in a Such a Time as This

This morning, NY Times’ columnist David Brooks shared “The Golden Age of Bailing.”  He ponders whether we have become immune to last-minute cancellations, or “bailing.” He’s got a point – and I’m sure many of us agree. Who among us hasn’t used a last minute excuse to cancel a meeting, or a social gathering, or even a phone call?


Do simple courtesies matter anymore? Ask any bride-to-be, tracking down rsvp’s is a nightmare. It’s common to send texts rather than to talk on the phone. I recently mailed a birthday card to a friend, rather than settle for a standard Facebook post…you would have thought I had purchased her a new car, she was so surprised!

Maybe I’m a little more aware of social graces right now, simply because I’ve been watching “Downton Abbey,” The PBS drama which aired in seasons 2011-2016. The show centers around the Grantham family, an aristocratic lineage in England in the early to mid 20th century. Being in the aristocracy, or working in their household, brings certain responsibilities; the show’s writers brought wonderful storylines that challenge much of the expected protocol among the family members and their estate.


Caution to readers: I’ve only just finished Season 3, so no spoilers, please. If you’ve not yet watched the series, consider this fair warning that you will be hooked quickly.

Now – back to the question: On a scale of “Downton Abbey” for exceedingly proper (though not condoning the protocol), and “Downton Rude” is expected these days?  More importantly, does it matter?

Here’s my answer: I don’t know what’s ‘proper,’ but I do know that manners have everything to do with consideration of the other person. And that makes it all the harder to admit my own fault – that by not acknowledging an invitation, or a gift, or a phone call, for example, I’m not exactly at my most loving! Even when I love the other person dearly.

Isn’t that what love is? Consideration of others, and not of self?

We just completed Vacation Bible School at Christ UMC. The program this year carried a theme of “Fruit of the Spirit.” In one short week, the children learned what we often forget: that in consideration of others, we can call on the Spirit to provide love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).


Would that we all embrace the lessons learned by these children! We live in a difficult world, and some claim that public discourse is as bad as its ever been. I don’t expect one returned rsvp to make all the difference, but we have to start somewhere.

A thank you note. Checking in on one who is sick. Holding your tongue when you really want to scream. Attending that meeting, even when you are tired (check out Luke 9:10-11 – even Jesus wanted to retreat privately but met with others when he may have been tired). Don’t bail, even if it’s socially acceptable to do so – someone may need you.

Embracing the fruit of the Spirit – I am convinced that renewing our focus on others will contribute to a positive change for our world.

Who’s with me?