Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 145: September 2011)
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Techniques for balance
When I was young, and one of the kids bigger and stronger stole something or whacked us, we had a common retort, “I’m telling your mother!” Everyone had a mother in my neighborhood, and she was always home during the day because mothers didn’t work. And they held to a pretty common ethic: Don’t hurt my kid, and my kid had better behave.
All you had to do was hear that call from an opening window, “Rudy!!” or “Victor” and “Get in here!!” That struck fear into the biggest bullies around.
As a parent, I obviously like kids. I have two and one of them has two of her own. There aren’t many neighborhoods any more, and even fewer stay-at-home mothers. But being a parent is being a parent, and that means kids need guidance, discipline, values, and an occasional (metaphorical) whack upside the head.
I often see kids in restaurants wander around to other tables while the parents talk. I’ve had to tolerate kids yelling in movies while the parents munch popcorn. I’ve actually seen parents sit elsewhere on a plane, allowing their kids to pester others around their seats.
I recall a Merck general manager telling me that, when he saw underperforming employees, he always went to their manager, who was the one at fault. Whenever I see kids performing poorly, I feel the same way—the parent is at fault.
You’re more likely to be a perfect astronaut or chemist than a perfect parent—the job is just too complex and demanding. But being a good parent involves providing some guidance for the brood. There appears to be a growing sentiment that kids should simply be left alone, like young alligators, expected to fend for themselves and express themselves at an early age. (Alligators, of course, often eat their young.) The tyke’s “esteem” and “expression” shouldn’t be curtailed merely because someone else in inconvenienced, annoyed, or has an experience ruined.
Maybe prospective parents should have to go to the equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles to be licensed. The test may change some minds, and the wait will certainly provide for some introspection.
Keep your yelling kid away from my dinner plate, and stop them from kicking my seat.
Otherwise, I’m telling your mother.
The human condition: Table manners
We dine out seven nights a week with rare exception. So I’m something of an expert in culinary affairs, I hope a gourmet and not a gourmand. When I’m eating casual food, I can be a trencherman, but I still try to watch my manners. I know real finger food when I see it, can deal with an artichoke, and dispatch escargot.
Every etiquette expert I’ve every known and/or employed (in my Million Dollar Consulting® Colleges) will tell you there are two socially acceptable ways to use cutlery: European style (which I favor as easier), and American style. They differ on the manner in which you hold the silverware and exchange it while cutting and consuming food.
No one has yet suggested that pushing your food onto your fork with your fingers is proper for anyone over the age of four, yet that’s what the mother of two was doing in front of her two teenage daughters and next to me at a fine restaurant in Philadelphia. It was Caesar salad eaten, well, as Caesar might have eaten it.
Then there are people who hold their forks as if about to ward off a vampire. Their fist is clutched around the handle, and it is impaling something on the dish, while a knife furiously saws at the remainder. In any fine restaurant on any given night, you’ll find people holding the silverware like weapons.
At a first-class steak restaurant, two parents smiled and continued talking while their 12-year old son picked up a rib-eye and started eating it by holding the bone in his hands, as if it were corn-on-the-cob with meat sauce.
Someone observed once (I forget who) that the first sign of a civilization in trouble is a decline in manners. Since when did we stop teaching how to eat correctly at a table and in others’ company? Why is it no longer important to act properly? What’s next, spitting on the sidewalk and wiping your nose on your sleeve?
I realize that some of you will feel there are more urgent issues in the world and that we live in informal times. Yet I don’t trust my money with a person with poor manners, I don’t choose to purchase from them, and I don’t enjoy dining with them. Perhaps many don’t care.
But is it so hard to learn proper social skills? Our table manners simply indicate what kind of image we choose to send, and ultimately, what we think about ourselves.
Miami, February 7, 2012
Copyright 2011 Alan Weiss. All rights reserved.
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