Ah, this blog. I have enjoyed writing on it, both expressing my opinion and charting my journey to become a better version of myself. The way my brain works, I don’t really understand something until I write about it. The understanding increases when I read back what I write. Anyone else like that? It works on a lesser scale with talking; I think something, talk about it, and then listen to myself discuss it, and the light bulb clicks on. My husband (and nearly everyone else I know) just think I talk too much. So a lot of times I have quiet discussions in my head. I’ve been writing a lot of meaningful blog posts lately, but they’ve all been in my head. Sometimes the reason I don’t post is because I think my post is too short, or about something I assume is incredibly obvious to most people; sometimes, I just don’t get the time. I’m in my second week of home schooling the oldest two children in first grade. But today a thought popped into my head, and out of both guilt that I seldom post and hope that it may be encouraging, I am sharing before I make dinner and get distracted again.
My oldest child has been called many things by well meaning parents. The term I hear most often is “strong-willed.” When I look at him I don’t see a problem to be fixed, nor even a challenge greater than the challenge of raising the other three. I see my beautiful, tiny baby boy—maybe just a bit bigger these days. I think he himself faces challenges the other children seem to glide through, but then he has his strengths, too. Anyway, today my eldest and I clashed again; there are a few behavioral traits I disapprove of, and lying is one of them. We had a talk. I feel weary of constantly correcting him but I know I can’t condone unacceptable behavior at some times and condemn it at other times. Still, it’s hard when you’re trying to raise a disciplined, well-guided child without resorting to legalistic tactics. And the more guiding a child needs, the harder it is to avoid becoming a legalistic robot, in my opinion. So this happened.
We had our talk about being honest. I said smart things, earnest things, simple things. I wondered if any of it was getting in his mind. Then we finished up school and had free time for the afternoon. He made a craft. It was a card for me. It looked like this:
He was sorry for everything, but I feel that he still doesn’t grasp the importance or necessity of telling the truth. He’s young. I expect that will take time. But the one thing he was keenly aware of was that he had disappointed me. So the point of the card was to let me know that he still loved me, even though he had done a bad thing. He proudly held it up, pointed to the words, and said, “Does this say—I think it says—I was trying to write—” and I looked at it closely, and said, “It says, ‘I love you, Mom!’” And he beamed. Yes! That was it. Did he spell words wrong? Of course. He’s only in first grade. So the thing I learned—From my experience, some parents are overreaching when it comes to their expectations for their kids. If the child spelled the word “mom” correctly in spelling class yesterday, why shouldn’t he be expected to spell it correctly from here on out? But that’s the entirely wrong approach. At that moment, what was happening was a parenting moment. A being-a-kid moment. A bonding, loving, emotional, healing moment where my small son was making peace with me. It would have been beyond inappropriate for me to correct his spelling at that moment!
Reading this over I again come to the part where I’m thinking, “Should I even post this?” because my readers probably think that I’m messed up to be realizing, as part of my journey in progress, that legalism has no place in love. Really, it’s humbling that I should even have to realize something like this and not just already know it and be acting on it. Nevertheless, now that I’ve embarked on this search for truth, I find there are lessons to be learned almost every day, and this was the one I reviewed today.
Thank you for reading the Well Bred Woman in Progress!
Suppose a male acquaintance you are not close to summons you loudly across a room and stretches his arms wide for a hug. What should you do? In order not to embarrass him needlessly, I would give a brief sideways hug and wrap up the interaction as quickly as possible. However, in a relationship it is best to wait until both parties are comfortable enough with each other to engage in hugging; when in doubt, ask. It is inconsiderate to maintain a one sided view that “I am just a hugger, so if I want to I will hug people.” If you do not know for sure, stick to an arm or shoulder pat or a handsqueeze (more intimate than a handshake, but not as invading as a hug). Remember, the epitome of being well mannered is to seamlessly move through life leaving everyone feeling as pleasant as possible under the circumstances while portraying your best character.
Someone pressures you to become an ambassador for her particular MLM (multilevel management) company. You are not interested, but she keeps asking. You do not want to give detailed reasons for your refusal, nor should you have to. If she asks again, decline politely but make it clear that you are not refusing out of ignorance or a wish to be convinced. Over this past week I dealt with such a situation by letting my friend know that I had thoroughly researched the company and concluded that the types of products they sell are just not for me in terms of using or selling. Though I have great reservations not only about MLMs in general but particularly the product my friend was peddling, I did not list any specific reasons because many MLM salespeople have been trained to combat such statements and I did not wish to debate. (Something I have slowly been realizing over the past few years is that the goal is not to walk away from every encounter leaving the other person in full ownership of my personal opinion. The well bred woman pursues the life best suited to her goals and style without trying to change others forcibly.) The bitter pill at the bottom of the sweet glass of the “Join my MLM as my ambassador” rhetoric is that the person who draws you into the company makes money off every sale you make. That is, in part, what fuels their persistence but knowing this can help a person look objectively at the situation when deciding. With MLMs taking the States by storm, I know by past experience that it is easy to get in and hard to get out, and the more money you put into it the worse you feel about quitting. So unless that type of sales experience and those particular business ethics suit you, and it does work for many people, declining an MLM invitation is something that needs to be done politely but firmly and preferably as soon as possible.
A stranger randomly starts talking to your child, beyond a mere hello. Expecting a cute reaction or a response, they just keep talking to your child even though you as a parent can tell the child is uncomfortable (compounded in children who have been taught not to talk to strangers). What do you do? Usually I gently pull the child to my side (to make him feel safe) and while keeping a hand on the child explain, “We teach our children not to talk to strangers.” That might sound cold but every time I have said it, no one has become visibly upset; usually they either apologize or laugh and agree that it is a good policy. Even now I remember incidences as a child where I had to deal with unwanted attention from a strange adult and I still remember how empty and scared I felt not to have a trusted adult step up and say something to make them stop bothering me. Yes, children need to learn communication skills, but these are best learned within the safety of the family, friends and community acquaintances that the parents place in their child’s life. The only thing that a child should have to say to a stranger asking them things like where they go to school and what their favorite color is “None of your business.” There are far too many bad people in the world nowadays for parents to have to endure a stranger interrogating their child. For me, if I see a child staring at me I sometimes smile or make eye contact but that is all. I usually just let them stare and go about my business; it is child’s job to observe adults and learn from them, and it is a bit presumptuous for me to take a child’s notice as an invitation to go and speak to them. If anything needs to be said to or about the child, the proper channel is to address her parent or caregiver.
Speaking of addressing others properly, when meeting and greeting at a function, if a person you know is present with their spouse or another guest, remember to address both your friend or acquaintance and their spouse or guest. After making eye contact and hand shaking the person who is known, you should briefly turn to their partner and at least smile. That gives your friend an opportunity to make introductions, and it is the least a person can do to acknowledge everyone within the same space. I am flabbergasted by how many times an acquaintance of my husband has addressed him, yet never even made eye contact with me as I stood right next to him! Another thing to remember is not to assume that you know who the other person is or how they are related; if I had voiced my assumption a few months back, I would have referred to my church pianist’s daughter as his wife!
And on that note, less said is better. Countless needless things, sometimes hurtful but often simply unnecessary, have been said because too much was said. Less said is always better and you do not have to take back what was not said. Smiling at and making eye contact with those around you is a good way to stay on top of your surroundings while learning more about the situation through observation and listening. One need not begin every interaction with her tongue. This is wisdom that I hope to find.
Well-rounded, elegant women participate in society to varying degrees based on their knowledge, background, interests, and comfort levels. To sharpen their intellect, share their skills or talents, socialize with others, and contribute to the betterment of society, there exist many social group settings in which a proper lady may choose to participate. For many of these groups, there are meetings in which group participation is expected. The groups to which I refer are informal, voluntary gatherings of people that do not hold to official business meeting procedures, such as Robert’s Rules of Order. In my own life, these are mainly church-related events such as Sunday Schools, Bible studies, or ministry teams. Though not a formal business meeting, following common standards of politeness and consideration of others facilitates a more enjoyable, productive meeting for everyone involved.
The key to success in an interactive group meeting is to recognize both aspects of participation: speaking and listening. One may choose mostly to listen, seldom or never speaking; however, the woman more inclined to talk must not neglect the importance of listening as well. Even if someone feels she never has something to offer out loud, she should know that thoughtfully paying attention to others is a valued contribution indeed. Whether one speaks or listens, it is helpful to know both when and how to do so.
When to speak
When a topic is being discussed by everyone, a lady may speak during a proper opening in the conversation (i.e., not breaking in while someone else is pausing for breath). If the group leader is conducting group business, she will not interject until the leader opens up the group for questions. She ought to speak only when she can share a completely formed thought that adds value to the discussion. Interrupting is always impolite, even if someone else is dominating the conversation. She will not express an opinion on every topic that comes up, though she will mentally form opinions on everything in order to stay focused on the group’s mindset and business and to stay mentally sharp. She will not feel obligated to speak every time there is a silence but will recognize that pauses are helpful for the participants to absorb what has been said and reflect upon their own thoughts. She knows that making a statement simply to break the silence will only make her look foolish.
How to speak
The well-bred woman will make her point succinctly and clearly, staying on topic instead of rambling from point to point. To best reach the hearts and minds of her fellow members, she will stay personable yet impersonal, expressing ideas and insights based on the common knowledge of the group (i.e. the book being read). She will avoid releasing too much personal information to support her insights and knowledge, even among friends and acquaintances. The tendency to become emotionally caught up in the moment of an intense discussion can cause one to feel too intimate with the situation and thus reveal personal information that need not be shared publicly, even if one feels that it helps make a point. A proper lady will avoid the temptation to become too familiar with the group; will not make a statement that singles out anyone in the group, even if she thinks it is a compliment; will not disagree outright with another’s opinion; will not expound on another’s point by assuming she knows exactly what they meant or how they feel; and will never make any comment at another’s expense, even if she thinks she’s joking. She will never join in with others who are joking at someone’s expense, knowing that the latter action is always in bad taste. She will let others speak for themselves, facilitating deeper discussion by asking questions rather than merely stating opinions. In points of disagreement, the well-bred woman will try to find common ground or see things from the other person’s point of view, leading others by her example to return her the same courtesy.
When to listen
A well-bred woman always pays attention when another is addressing the group, never carrying on side conversations or whispering. When the group leader speaks up over small talk, she will give him her attention.
How to listen
The thoughtful woman will pay attention to everything that another says, without zoning out or flipping through her phone. She will mentally process everything she hears, which will produce a thoughtful rather than bored or indifferent expression upon her face. If possible, she will respectfully turn toward the direction of the one speaking. She will not jump to conclusions or make assumptions based on what she hears, choosing instead to accept it at face value. Doing this can be difficult with a person who jokes constantly, but by her example of believing and seriously considering everything that is said to her, a woman can eventually influence others to produce more thoughtful dialog in a group setting. If, while listening, she gains insights or knowledge from what is shared and wants to reflect on it further, she will journal her thoughts afterward to gain further understanding on the subject matter. If someone speaking gets choked up or angry or says something awkward, she will graciously participate in the group’s segueing the conversation to another plane instead of dwelling on the awkwardness of the moment; she may do so by either interjecting calmly upon a relevant point herself or looking at someone else who does so, instead of staring at the person who behaved awkwardly and making them feel more uncomfortable.
The two most important aspects to consider in a group setting are:
1. Creating, fostering, and contributing to an environment in which each person , no matter their age, experience, or opinions, should feel comfortable participating and
2. making the most of each group meeting by keeping contributions high quality, manners impeccable, and the mind open to growing and learning from others.
There is nothing quite like a group of diverse people from different areas, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, and educational venues meeting voluntarily for group discussion. To have a truly productive meeting for the purpose of discussion, there is generally at least one point of common agreement, such as a moral standard, religious affiliation, political viewpoint, or social platform; however, the group members need not be carbon copies of each other. Such a uniform group setting would be less likely to have discussion and more likely to have constant reiteration and agreement with the collectively exclusive mindset. So with agreement on the common ground that brings group members together, such as in a charity group, animal rescue group, ministry team, community board, or church group, there ought to be agreement on the basic tenets but variety among other areas in the group members’ lives. When participating in a group, the tendency to only heed those that the group as a whole seems to agree with or to shut down opposing viewpoints can eventually drive a more diverse group to become smaller and more exclusive. While this may feel more comfortable for the remaining participants, it does little for their mental improvement and moral character. Gathering in small, exclusive groups can eventually cause the participants to become shut off from society, incapable of participating in more diverse settings, and increasingly prone to copying the ways of the others in the group instead of making their own decisions based on the wisdom, knowledge, experience, and resources available to them. In my personal experience, I have found that the denomination of the church I attend now is more diverse in their Sunday Schools and small group Bible studies than the denomination of my youth. In the former, not everyone may agree on everything that would be classified as major doctrines, not to mention the smaller things in life; in the latter, it is common to find the people so comparable to each other that there are noticeable patterns among the members, such as a common income level, a narrow range of common career choices, nearly identical lifestyle choices, and even a standard dress code! Thus, beyond simply being polite and considerate of others when participating in small groups, a woman who perceives the merits of diversity and the drawbacks of uniformity will consider the overall goal and future of the groups in which she chooses to participate.
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.