Let me just adjust my floweredy apron and my blue hair, because I guess I’m somebody’s grandma on the subjects of manners, commitments and integrity.  I am a lover of etiquette, because I see it as merely legislated courtesy, a way of making us Be Nice when we don’t want to.  I am a bit of a nexus for bad manners because I am hostessy, and like to throw parties; and because I run a small charitable organization, you might call it a "ministry," and am completely, abjectly dependent on volunteer participants.  For a long time I’ve been collecting these incidents, they’re sort of composting in my mind, they’re sort of sad and sort of funny.  Many of these opportunities for inetiquette seem to stem from the same deep vein of a-la-carte-ism, where we are so able to pick and choose that we forget that sometimes we can’t just take a bite out of something and put it back. 

Example: the response cards for my wedding, you know the pre-printed "BLANK will BLANK attend", which strictly speaking are in themselves improper since we’re told people should put pen to paper to respond themselves.  Yeah, right: Emily Post is living in a dream world, since 20-30% of people invited never returned the darn things even when they only had to write two words and the stamp was already on it.  Anyway, of those who did return the response card, one of our favorites read: "We’ll try to be there."  Really?  Well, we’ll try really hard to get married, sing some songs, and scare up a piece of cake for you.

I had a communication today from someone invited to a sort of structured event, wondering if it would be O.K. if she could leave our event halfway through in order to attend another event later that day.  Uh…no?   But I’m flattered to know we’re your second choice.  At least this invitee didn’t realize that space was limited and when alerted to the larger circumstance, graciously retracted her half-an-RSVP; and to her credit, she only sought to half-attend my event because she had and intended to keep a prior commitment.  Not so for many others. 

The real test to my thin reserves of grace and patience (I blame the Lupron, and not my essential nature, because I can) has come from my wonderful army of volunteers.  My organization’s projects have a distinct arc from sign-up to completion, and in our initial outing I experienced a 70% drop-out rate.  So my second time out, I got stern with my prospects, asked them to make a "complete commitment."  But it doesn’t work. 

I have heard many, many versions of the same "I quit" speech, and it appalls me.  The first clue that lots of steaming BS is headed my way is that nobody uses the word "quit."  It’s usually phrases like "step out", the more self-aggrandizing "step down", the stinks-of-dating "take a break", and the corporate "resign."  But the worst is the "I have to talk to you about the meeting schedule", followed by a list of dates they committed to but can no longer attend, generally accompanied by galling reasons, like: "um, so I can’t come on the 4th because Winky and I are going to Macy’s and then I’ll be out of town all the next week, and then I’ll probably be really tired on the 14th so I probably shouldn’t come then and…" and it’s about then that I realize this person isn’t even going to quit: she or he is going to make me quit for them.  Which, up til now, I have done graciously.   

There are a few halfway legit excuses.  There is carelessness, or something – this is when people say "I forgot I have to be away on such and such a weekend" thereby missing the crucial final night.  Okay, I can almost accept this; maybe there was a verbal commitment that didn’t get written down.  Then there is "I have a work trip", which is not uncommon, since many jobs jerk people around in this way, so that they then have to jerk their friends and families and commitments around in a lovely jerk-around trickle-down that we can’t do much about. 

But the crowning blow to my patience is the sudden development of "schedule" conflicts.  "The schedule just didn’t work out", I was told the other day.  The schedule didn’t work out?  I don’t get this.  This was someone who signed up, knowing every single meeting up front, then had a chance to participate in another endeavor on the same night, and since that other thing sounded more fun, she said yes to it.  If only my meeting was on another night, she said.  Huh?   

Okay, call me crazy, call me grandma, but that’s not a "scheduling problem", that’s a choice.  She chose to bail on the first commitment because the second one sounded like it would be more fun.  For some reason, we are disconnected from our choices.  I’m not immune to this problem. For me it’s about brownies or brown sugar, which food items I blame for my own loss of control in, well, hoovering them when they are available and no one is looking.  But come on: "my schedule didn’t work out?"  A schedule is piece of paper.  It’s not a person.  People talk about their schedule like it’s a force of nature – "my schedule is so crazy!" "you know how my schedule is."  Ultimately anybody’s schedule is just a list of the things they said "yes" to.

For some reason, a lot of us have gotten a little bit fuzzy about how much of our lives we chose, and that fuzziness (I call it "lack of integrity", call me grandma) means you hardly ever get a nice truthful answer.  We get these passive-voice political non-pologies more and more (you know, "mistakes were made"), like "your computer has experienced an error."  Really? 

The quitter with the unruly schedule, when I lost control and pressed her for an explanation, admitted that the second Monday night event "sounded more fun", but then quickly got herself back on message with "so the schedule didn’t work out."  She also informed me that my Friday night meetings were iffy, too, because "if something comes up" with family, "family comes first."  Now this is not "something-comes-up" like somebody in the hospital – this is more in the line of nephew birthday parties or perhaps an emergency barbecue; this is more of a "something suddenly came up," a la Marcia Brady (episode #90).  So if this particular quitter has a Friday night meeting scheduled (since January), and her mom calls on Tuesday and says "Are you free for dinner Friday?" she gets to say "Sure!" because… family comes first? 

I always thought that you danced with the one what brung ya.  Or, as the Bible says "let your yes be yes and your no be no."  Either way, it means we remember what WE said yes to, fulfill that commitment, and only then are we free to say yes to something else.  Call me grandma, but that’s what I was always taught.  It means you might have to say no to a cooler Monday night event, a date with Doug Simpson, an extramarital affair, or a box of brown sugar; but in so doing we say a much deeper "yes", to our own integrity and to the One who demands it.   

If none of THAT holds any water and we’ve just gotta go out with Doug Simpson, or bail on a prior commitment, integrity can still be salvaged with, hello, honesty.  Therefore, I will bake a chocolate cake for the next person who looks me in the eye and says "You know what?  I got a better offer on Monday nights" or "I don’t feel like doing all this work" or "I changed my mind… so, I quit."   Don’t lie to your grandma.

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