Some etiquette thoughts for National Etiquette Week!
I love that phrase "in a New York minute". It seems to capture the speed, intensity, and movement of Gotham- not to mention that it makes for some catchy song lyrics.
Recently, during a day filled with a lot of rushing around (we're all such busy people, aren't we??) I hustled down the stairs into the underbelly of the subway, bound for the N train. (Back in the day when the city had a W train as well, we often referred to the Queensbound lines as the Never, the Whenever, and the (R) Rarely, thanks to their less-than-timely arrival- but I digress. And also date myself...) As so often seems to be the case, when you are traveling with the most haste, your Metrocard runs out. So, as Mr. Murphy's Law would have it, I needed to refill my card.
Folks lined up in front of the Metorcard machines, waiting patiently to replenish their cards and get the heck out of there. As we waited in line, (at a respectful distance that I would call an ATM length...), two women came down the stairs and swooped in on an empty machine the second the previous user had walked away. No regard for the people waiting, or for our attempt at order and organization in the midst of what can only best be described (on a good day) as chaos, they walked right up to the screen and started looking for money to begin their transaction.
In a New York minute, I was furious! How dare they?! Were they special? More important than the rest of us? In possession of a "cut any line you want" card? Unacceptable! Outrageous! I immediately felt all the injustice of the world descending- somehow, these two women were the root of it. All of it. What to do?
And just as quickly as my fury arrived, I sheepishly remembered something- I have the ability to speak, and to do so with civility. I could make the choice to speak up with consideration, respect, and honesty. I could make the situation better, rather than holding it in, stewing on it, and making a snap judgment.
Those New York minutes go by so quickly, and luckily the ladies were still fumbling at the screen when I stepped forward and said (rather timidly for someone so filled with indignation) "I'm sorry, there's actually a line waiting here." I expected to be ignored, or dismissed, or attacked (what else could be possible from such blatant line-cutters!), and what I got was a response in a lilting southern accent: "Oh! I'm so sorry! I didn't know!". The ladies quickly stepped aside and let the line progress.
Suddenly, I felt terrible. These women weren't natives to the city- they were vistors, trying to find their way around. I pride myself on my attempts to be a generous New Yorker (I remember being helped by so many generous New Yorkers as a young person when I first moved to the city...), and in that inital blink of an eye, I didn't consider that maybe those women needed a little extra help. What I saw was two people who thought their time was more valuable than mine. Terrible.
Yet I was relieved. Like the song says, "in a New York minute, everything can change". I was so glad I kicked myself quickly enough to think "Consideration! Respect! Honesty!" I hadn't become one of those less-generous New Yorkers. I was relieved that etiquette prevailed. The ladies did just fine in the end, and I hadn't allowed my stress to turn me into a jerk. Whew.
In an effort to build some self-awareness, I have taken to acknowledging my avenging response when it arises- rude salespeople, line-cutters, drivers who don't use blinkers, and don't get me started on people who block subway doors!- I try to remember that, even in the most difficult of situations, following the guidelines of etiquette only makes things better. And keeps me from turning into a culprit, as well.
As National Etiquette Week draws to a close, I'm renewing my vow to approach every situation with civility, to give others the consideration, respect, and honesty they deserve, and to continue to build relationships with those thoughts in mind. Accidental line-cutters around the country can breathe a sigh of relief. And I'll feel better about myself, as well.
How about you? What has National Etiquette Week brought to mind? Let us know in the comments below!