When I was a teenager and a very young man I was a bit of a Holden Caufield type. I hated all fakery and dishonesty. I particularly disliked what I perceived as the ritualistic dance that was polite behavior. Not that I wanted to be impolite, but what if I didn’t feel like saying “Hello” every time someone walked into a room? So what? Whose life was I leading? Why must I do anything so that someone else won’t feel slighted? If someone was troubled by honesty, that was their problem, not mine. But then I got a job as a waiter in a fine dining restaurant. Early on, I concluded that if I wanted to keep this job and make any money at it I would have to master what I considered formal manners, the most restrictive of all behavioral expectations. I looked upon practitioners of formal manners as trained monkeys, actors in a play that they had, for reasons of upward mobility or familial requirements, chosen to perform until pulled from the stage by death or drunkenness. So what to do? Every customer is different. How can one know what is polite with each person? It can’t be mere form. It must be something else.
I asked myself what every writer is advised to ask when starting a book. Writers should write the book they would want to read. I decided I would be the kind of waiter I would want to serve me. What I discovered was I wanted someone kind. I used to think that manners were a series of social maneuvers one memorizes so as not to embarrass or offend. But true politeness, I found, was just another word for kindness. All I had to do was to be kind. My kindness told me what to do. My kindness told me what to say. This was not so hard. I already wanted to live in a kind world where people loved one another. And when I acted from love, this is exactly the world I lived in. This wasn’t fakery. This was honesty. My impoliteness had actually been dishonest. Love, I saw, was my only honest expression.
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