Tag Archive | being gracious

Refined speech

              One of the hallmarks of a well bred woman is her refined speech. It is one of the foremost identifiers of a woman’s character as even the slightest interaction with someone usually involves talking. I am developing certain habits of speech that I believe contribute to my goal of becoming a well bred woman. Please note that I don’t speak a certain way because I think I’m better than another. I have heard since childhood that I must think I’m better than other people because of this way or that way that I acted. And it is true that I was once more judgmental than I hope I am now. However, I’ve trained myself to stop assuming what others are thinking, and I appreciate the same in turn. The following examples of how I pursue refined speech may be taken as inspiration or confirmation for your own journey as a well bred woman in progress.

              Let’s begin with what refined speech is not: it isn’t a list of little known “fancy” words that you should add to your vocabulary to appear more sophisticated. In the South, we referred to such a fake show as being high-falutin’ (high fuh-LOO-tin’), and truthfully, adding more high-falutin’ words to your vocabulary doesn’t do much more than make you look, well, high-falutin’. Truly refined speech focuses on tactful subtractions and substitutions in one’s words.

              The first category I subtract from my speech is vulgarity, include all words having to do with cursing, swearing, coarseness, or so-called nice or Christian curse words. I am not going to type them here but a quick google search of “Christian curse words” covers the gamut of what I don’t feel comfortable saying (if you must know!).

              This is the part where I feel like it’s hard not to cross into “I’m better than you” territory. All I’m trying to say is that you just don’t have to curse or swear. When I was in college I picked up many bad habits including using curse words. When I got back home around my church and family, I found myself biting my tongue a lot, not realizing how pervasive my little slips had become. When I got married I quit the vulgarity cold turkey, and although I have occasionally allowed myself to speak inappropriately over the last 9 years, I know I don’t have to. I never had to. I always had the tools, as does every woman, to express myself without stooping to vulgarity. There is strength, albeit a quiet one, in having consistent morals that one abides by, even in the circumstances that everyone else would be cursing in. That reminds me of my first natural childbirth eight years ago. My midwife was coaching me through the last painful pushes and she kept telling me how well I was doing. (I was terrified!) She said, “Most people would be swearing by now” and I answered “But–I–don’t–swear!!” And she said, “Well, most people who don’t swear would be swearing by now!”

              If you are unwilling to give up strong language, perhaps you feel you would be defenseless or powerless without your strong words. In my experience women who tend to use vulgarity sparsely but in extreme circumstances do so in the effort to react to the most extreme situation with equal extremity. However, this is still vulgarity, and although many people do appreciate your not sprinkling your speech with the “f” word like rain in a spring garden, when you do say it, you still said it. You went there, and you used harsh, unrefined speech. I feel sad for women who feel like they have to pull out the occasional curse word to really make a point. You don’t. The people who respect you and take your words seriously will respect your refined speech and your restraint in strongly expressing yourself–and there are plenty of creative ways to make a point that don’t involve four letter words and offensive epitaphs.

              Another category I completely avoid are euphemisms for God and Jesus. A euphemism is a more pleasant way of wording a harsher word or phrase, for example saying “passed away” instead of “died.” But in the case of saying God’s name carelessly, any lesser form (“g-sh,” “gee,” etc.) aren’t okay with me. This traces back to my firm Christian upbringing in childhood, but as an adult I still agree with the mindset behind this speech standard.

              Another area I desire to limit is the use of slang words. Of course I can’t think of any examples right now! I use some slang such as “mom,” “dad,” and “kids,” but most often I try to use standard words rather than substandard words. This is the area I think I need the most work in currently.

              Additionally, I am learning to avoid remarks that malign people groups, that is, ethnic groups or religions. Unfortunately growing up in the South I learned some phrases used by people close to me that I didn’t realize were racist at the time. I am not talking about offensive words for people groups (not giving examples) but rather phrases that ended up being racist due to the judgmental, haughty, narrow mindset behind them. For example: “(skin color) neighborhood”; “all (country of origin) are illegals”; “what did you expect from a _(skin color)_ person?” One needn’t look far on the web these days to find oneself criticized by those on the anti-racist bandwagon, and that’s a good thing. Racism needs to be eradicated forever in the US, and it starts with each individual’s speech and actions including mine. As a young child without much exposure to the world and living in an area of predominately one skin color, I honestly believed my authority figures when they made general statements about people’s religious practices or ethnic groups. While thinking critically about other people’s religion is fine, as it’s a personal choice that should involve mental exertion as well as moral justification, general presuppositions based on fear and rumor are not fine. And who can choose which family they were born into? Judging someone for that makes the least sense of all. I began realizing in college that people are just people. What distinguishes us is our character; it’s all we have, and it’s the thing that is most under our control if we choose to control it.

              Besides subtracting the categories of vulgarity, using God’s name in vain, slang, and maligning speech, I am learning to make substitutions in my quest for refined speech. The first area I have really focused on since having children is substituting kindness for callousness or carelessness. We say so much. We give directions, answer questions, place an order, explain ourselves. We have to ask questions and seek directions or explanations. And all of those times that we speak, there are often times that our phrasing, by taking care, can come out kindly instead of unkindly or just plain carelessly. Situations in which to be especially mindful include taking care not to tell someone else how to do their job, taking care not to assume one knows how someone else feels, taking care to offer appreciation for others’ actions and respect for others’ positions, and taking care not to bring up topics one knows are painful for the listener, such as the loss of a child, or an excessive focus on one’s own happiness in an area where the listener has experienced loss.

              The other category I am attempting to substitute is restraint for wordiness. Wordy: using or containing many and usually too many words. Perhaps my readers are chuckling now; my blog posts are usually very long and wordy. But, to paraphrase Anne of Green Gables, if you only knew how many words I edited out of my 2nd and 3rd readings before publishing, you’d give me some credit! I have also had several people over the years, including my husband, reprimand me for talking too much. I am starting to see that truly, people do take you more seriously when you speak less because that gives your words more value. As a caveat, the reason my blog posts are long is that my goal is to over-analyze topics that I find interesting. I realize that the post lengths limit the amount of readership I will likely achieve, but gaining readers isn’t the goal of this blog. Still, I edit for clarity.

              So what about women who don’t practice any or all of the above characteristics of refined speech? Should we stop our ears and shun them? If you’re thinking that’s what I’m thinking, then maybe this is the first post you’ve read on this blog. I hope to have made it clear over the last few years that I hate judging and am not trying to. I also don’t mean to be condescending. A woman may not possess refined speech simply because she doesn’t know better, or she may have never thought how her speech sounds to other people or affects their perception of her (which perception isn’t ours to control, yet…it still happens). Saying a curse word or choosing carelessness over kindness doesn’t indicate a completely bad character. I believe that refined speech comes from an inward gracious, positive character. So for the woman who may speak roughly out of ignorance or inattentiveness, but who has a good heart and seeks good character, I hope the above examples of ways to pursue refinement in one’s speech may help her in her goal. I know I’ve mentioned it in other posts here, but the best transition from an average woman to a well bred woman is from the inside out, not the outside in. Start with pursuit of good character, such as love, courage, and kindness, and refined speech may follow if you wish it!

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Making announcements to friends and family

              Something good happened to you but your friend is having a rough time.  Maybe you’re engaged, getting married, having a baby, getting a new job.  Whom should you tell?  I have read many opinions on how to classify people as friends, family, acquaintances, etc., and the protocols of communicating what with whom, when, and how.  Here are my thoughts on the matter.
              First of all, I believe each woman has a good idea of how well she knows others.  Any given person that she considers herself acquainted with should fit easily into a category of communication, personal closeness, etc.  If it isn’t clear, or if there is a lot of drama, conflicting allegiances, or constantly changing friendship protocols, it may be a toxic relationship.  Whom a woman is close to varies among each of us.   A stereotypical woman might be very close to her mother, best friends with her sisters, have college mates she still keeps in touch with, not be so chatty with the grocery store cashier, etc.  But no one fits a stereotype exactly and the first thing to remember when trying to figure out how one should interact with others is to let go of expectations.  For whatever reason, a woman may not be close to her mother or best friends with her sister.  She may not have or be in contact with close family members or classmates.  She should still develop an understanding of how close she is with the acquaintances she has;  that will guide her in knowing how much to confide and share.
              Second, announcements such as pregnancy, miscarriage / child loss, extreme financial or physical hardship, and relationship changes should not be announced on Facebook.  I understand the ritual of “updating one’s status” means a lot to some people.  Trust me, your mom is not amused to hear of your engagement by reading your relationship update on Facebook.  Likewise with any other major announcement;  for most people on Facebook, I would assume you are not as close to some as to others.  That does not mean that the event doesn’t need to ever be discussed on Facebook; it is just that proper manners dictate your telling personally, not necessarily “in person,” those closest to you, such as best friends and close family members.  If you are not sure how close someone is to you, here are some questions to ask yourself:
                      Does this friend tell me her major announcements?  If yes, put her on the tell personally list.
                      Do I have at least some form of regular, albeit sparse, communication and interaction with this family member (i.e. a mom, a sister, aunt)? If yes, put them on the tell personally list.
              Do not ever ask yourself how you expect the other person would take it when considering whether or not to tell them.  I have seen this idea discussed on the web lately by a few self-pitying people who have experienced tragedy;  however, a well bred woman should not hesitate to share her pregnancy with a best friend or family member who has had a miscarriage or lost a child.  You can do it tactfully and kindly, and you cannot hold yourself responsible for any pain they may feel due to circumstances outside your control as long as you know you have behaved kindly and properly.  You should not hesitate to share an upcoming wedding or engagement with your dear friends even if you cannot afford to invite them to the wedding.  It is far more offensive to exclude someone with whom you are in contact and who has shared their life with you, based on your opinion that they won’t like what you have to say, than to share your good news out of respect for the depth and length of the relationship.  Believe me, the excluded people are not going to be happy hearing about your pregnancy or marriage from someone else or through Facebook.
              Finally, you have the right to tell whatever you want to whomever you want.  So if you want to cut out your sister, (former) best friend, aunt, grandmother, or whomever from your announcements, that’s completely within your right.  You shouldn’t feel pressured to be close to someone just because you once were or because you’re family.  I understand many toxic relationships exist, especially among family members, and I sympathize with those who are in them or have left such relationships.  You don’t owe anyone an explanation.  What does not make sense, however, and is rather rude and uncivil, is women who do not ostensibly cut off relations with a particular friend or family member but treat them as if they have.  For example, women who show up to all the family events they’re invited to but don’t invite anyone back to their place;  women who accept wedding and birthday gifts but don’t share their pregnancy announcement with the same family members who have extended courtesy to them;  or, women who only interact with the family when the family reaches out to them and don’t reach back.  I believe that at some point, a woman needs to decide where she stands with her family and act consistently.  If for whatever reason she decides that she does not wish to share her important news with certain family members or friends, she needs to show them the courtesy of mostly or completely refraining from interacting with them and taking advantage of their generosity.  You’re either close to someone or you aren’t.  You can’t have it both ways.  I have heard from many women over the last few years who are finding out they’re the last to know a big announcement from someone they thought was a best friend or a close family member.  It’s hurtful to women who don’t understand how or why the relationship has changed, and it’s confusing especially when their supposed friend or family member acts as if they want this women to be their friend, but then they don’t return the same level of closeness in the relationship.
              It’s time we all grew up.  I am specifically speaking to my generation of millennials;  some of us are passing 30, many of us are married and most are running our own households and are women within our own right.  We’re no longer children.  We can be mature by giving equal treatment in a relationship.  If your family and friends confide in you, confide in them.  If you’re not comfortable being close, distance yourself.  Don’t stay close and act aloof.  If you have good news, don’t think you’re doing someone else a favor by not telling them, even if they have had bad news.   Give them the opportunity to be mature about handling your news.  If they’re not mature about it, it isn’t your fault.  Excluding them because you don’t think they are able to handle it isn’t your decision to make, and you risk losing more friends that way.
              What are your thoughts about sharing important news and reciprocating equal treatment in a relationship?  Do you find this issue harder to deal with as you get older?  Have you lost or distanced yourself from any friends who did not exhibit equal trust and confidence in a relationship?  I enjoy hearing the perspectives of my readers, and thank you for reading The Well Bred Woman in Progress.

Considering others: not wasting time

               Considering the feelings of others is of utmost importance to a well-bred woman and is one of her primary characteristics. It may, in fact, be the hallmark of her very existence. Many women can become well-mannered, well-educated, or well-endowed with abilities and resources, but few choose to consciously consider others within the context of everything they do.

               A well-bred woman lives her life carefully and conscientiously. She considers each decision before making it and weighs the ramifications of her actions upon not only herself but also those around her. One area for consideration involves how she chooses to spend her time. If she is careless, a woman may draw friends with good intentions into her chronic shortcomings, such as an inability to stay focused, spend time well, or finish a job. How a woman chooses to spend her time directly affects others, especially well-meaning friends who just want to be there and support another woman no matter what. The more trusting and faithful a friend is, the more likely she is to feel hurt or let down when she finds that her time, trust, advice, and presence have been misused.

               I think American women often feel obligated to be the perfect friend. We want to be there all the time, solve every problem, be the heroine, and save our friend! We patiently put up with all her flaws. Too often we may end up hurt or disappointed when our efforts go unnoticed or do not bring about the end we had desired, as in the case of someone who may have their own chronic time-wasting issue to work out. Of course, since nobody is perfect, swearing off friendship forever while becoming highly judgmental and mistrustful of others would not be characteristic of a well-bred, thoughtful woman. However, with a little practice in recognizing issues and sticking to her boundaries, a woman can control the amount of time, energy, and effort she puts into each friendship, thereby maintaining most of them without feeling used. A well-bred woman will gracefully cut back excessive emotional and physical involvement in a relationship while making everyone as happy as possible.

               What types of personal shortcomings in a woman might cause her friends to feel as though she is taking advantage of them? Areas in which she wastes her own time can often overflow into a friend’s life, causing the friend to waste time, too. Some examples include daydreaming, gossiping, fruitless planning, creating castles in the sky, envying others, wishing without doing, browsing the internet, looking at pictures or articles of other people’s lives endlessly, reading frivolous material, and constantly gaming or texting. In short, these personal shortcomings occur when good activities such as imagination, conversation, and relaxation are made futile through overuse, thereby not producing results to make life better.

               When deciding to engage in any activity, a woman should measure its worthiness by asking these questions: Is this worth my time? Does this further my life’s purpose? Does this line up with my principles? Does this involve the use of another’s time, emotions, or insight and knowledge? If so, is this worth involving that other person? It is important that consideration for others who may be drawn into the activity be part of a well-bred woman’s decision.

               A tendency to excessive daydreaming or future planning, for example, may lead a woman to unwittingly steal her friends’ time, emotions, advice, knowledge, or insight. If she never acts on anything, this woman’s friends may begin withdrawing or becoming aloof if they feel their interactions with her are not worth their investments into her.

               At this point, I could discuss the situation at hand from two perspectives: that of the person who draws others into her time-wasting feats or that of the friend who got caught up in another’s fruitless activities. Though I originally intended to do both, I feel more prepared to discuss it from the latter point of view. As to the former, her cure will come via asking the questions to consider before engaging in any activity that involves others and through the constant mantra of considering others in everything she does.

               My blog’s title was inspired by my looking back over the last decade and noting the lessons that women I have known have learned about life’s purpose, friendships, manners, and responsibility. Today’s subject reminds me of a woman who got caught up twice in a friend’s philandering of her time, emotions, knowledge, and advice.

               Once there was a young woman whose family had recently joined a new church. They were quickly drawn in by another family, who often invited them over for dinner or talked to them for hours after services. The young woman noticed that this family seemed to not have any other close friends in the church, even though they had been attending for over a year, but she naively concluded that certain people do not always click with others and that her family must really click with this family. But one day, she realized they did not mesh as well as she had thought. The young woman was a busy housewife and mother of small children. Her new-found friend had older children who were self-sufficient and attending school. This friend spent one to two hours each day talking on the phone to the young woman, who was grateful at first for adult interaction during her long, lonely days. Unfortunately, not only did the phone calls become longer and longer, the discussion content became more and more negative as the friend vented all her criticism and disappointment with her life, her past, and specifically the church they both attended. The young woman felt like she was sucked into a time stealing and negative thought creating vortex. She was not assertive enough to curtail the conversation’s length or content after having already answered the phone, so she began not taking her friend’s calls. She tried stretching out their calls to every other day, then twice a week. As the calls continued to be long and unfruitful, she finally decided to limit interaction with this woman to church only. She dutifully explained to her new friend that she would no longer be available for phone calls, noticing that her friend ignored her. At about the same time, her family missed one Sunday’s attendance due to out of town guests and the next week’s due to illness. In that time, her so-called friend and some other church members began gossiping furiously that her family was leaving the church, and she was surprised to receive several angry phone calls from many members expressing their dismay over her family’s alleged decision to leave the church. Of course, the young woman’s friend called, too, but trying to stick to her new goal of church-interaction only, she felt unfit to take the calls. This led to the friend showing up unannounced at the young woman’s house one morning. As this story has gone on long, to sum up the young woman did not handle the situation well but let things escalate, and lost her friendship while eventually having to seek a new church family due to the large-scale gossip that had sprung up around her. Upon reflection, the young woman realized that she ought not have gotten too close to new friend so quickly before fully realizing her character, and that she should have curtailed her involvement in her friend’s time-wasting chatter as soon as she was aware of the problem. She firmly believed that in the future, a friendship need not be sacrificed if she were to respond promptly and properly to such a situation again.

               A few years later, the young woman again found herself devoting much time, effort, and thought to a friendship in which another woman sought advice and collaboration. As she loved to advise and solve problems, the young woman eagerly invested hours of time helping her friend plan, troubleshoot, and tweak. After a couple of months, however, the young woman realized that she had been taking her friend’s plans more seriously than the friend was. What the young woman regarded as serious questions and ideas, such as asking others to make commitments to responsibility and time, were apparently not so very serious to the friend making the plans. When the young woman realized that all her investment had been for naught, she felt let down for a day. Then she realized that all was not lost because the friendship was still there, and that though differing levels of maturity and worldly wisdom had caused her and her friend to see things differently, she need not throw away the friendship by attempting to force her point of view upon her friend and certainly not by cutting off communication. She quietly but gradually eased up on her involvement in the fairy-tale project and made sure above all that her words were always positive and encouraging to her friend. Through the wise diplomacy of a thoughtful woman, the young woman managed to continue to meet her friend’s emotional needs by letting her know how much she valued and appreciated her without making the friend feel guilty about the young woman’s own decision to become over-involved. The two women remain friends, and as far as I know there are no hard feelings between them.

               The well-bred woman will be ever changing, growing, adapting, and taking life’s lessons to apply to the future; she will always be a work in progress. Above all, she will always consider the feelings of others because kindness and thoughtfulness undergird her character.