Dear Miss. Mannerly:
I had to sit in a highly public spot during one of the most uncomfortable and painful experiences I have ever had to endure in my long –- very, very long –- career. It was the occasion of an important speech, and I had to sit in full view right behind the speaker, whom I detest. (I’m sure the feeling is mutual.) This was an hour-and-a-half of sheer torture. Not only were all eyes in the room focused in my direction, but there were numerous cameras there, including live video, to capture my every expression for posterity. I knew I was completely visible at all times and was expected to maintain a respectful demeanor on this official occasion, but I just couldn’t control my facial movements, even though it’s often difficult for me to move parts of it at all. I did applaud when it was absolutely necessary, but took the opportunity to make a statement and register my contempt by making most of my clapping as unenthusiastic as possible. On an irresistible impulse, I even clapped “at” him when he turned to me, just to inject a little condescension. I don’t see what’s wrong with doing this, as I am already known as an enemy of this person and all he stands for.
I did get the memo on the dress code --- all white for the women --- and followed it to a “t.” But now that the evening is over, I’m hearing that I was rude. What did I do wrong?
It sounds as though you have been through a difficult and very trying experience, and Miss Mannerly offers her sympathy. Yet from your letter she gets the impression that your behavior on this occasion was extremely inappropriate. It’s when we are in uncomfortable and perplexing situations that we need our good manners most of all.
Your rudeness stems from the fact that an important speech was being given, so important that it was being beamed out live to a huge television audience, and you were doing what they call in the film industry “pulling focus.” It doesn’t matter whether or not you personally like the speaker or agree with what he had to say. Your role on this occasion was intended to be ceremonial. It would have been proper to avoid pursed or puckered lips, a sour expression, sullen clapping, and distracting motions such as, say, shuffling through a stack of papers while the speaker is talking. One should strive for a pleasantly benign expression, applaud politely, and offer no annoying distractions.
You seem to excuse your behavior by saying you “detest” the speaker and asserting that he feels the same way about you. Assuming he does, Miss Mannerly is wondering: was he similarly rude and condescending to you on this occasion? Or did he set personal feelings aside, at least temporarily, and behave politely towards you while the world was watching? If he did, you might take a lesson from him.
This goes as well for those members of the audience who presumably agree with you about this speaker. Miss Mannerly cautions all of you that if you want respect for your opinions, you must behave in a polite, professional manner. If you use rudeness to force your opinions on others, they will defend themselves by pushing back, and if it comes to that, they have Miss Mannerly’s blessing.
By the way, all-white for the ladies is an unusual dress code. Might Miss Mannerly inquire as to its purpose? If dressing in this fashion was also an attempt to undermine or otherwise express hostility towards the speaker –- who is, after all, an invited guest –- then it also is impolite. The word “childish” also comes to mind.
Miss Mannerly recommends that you apologize publicly for your behavior, and also send a personal, handwritten note of apology to the speaker. Under the circumstances, a bouquet of flowers would be a nice addition. And if you are going to be put in this position again next year, she hopes you will strive to play your role more effectively, professionally and politely.
Dear Miss Mannerly:
I was in the audience recently for a major address by a speaker I detest. It was a big event; all three branches of government were there: the President (ugh!!!!!), the House, and the Senate, plus some other people in robes and uniforms. I was sitting with my like-minded sisters, and we just DID NOT feel like smiling, so we sat there with dark, brooding faces and talked sideways to each other a lot. I knew the TV cameras would be on me a lot because, let’s face it, I’m a big deal –- super-young and super-photogenic –- and I know a TREMENDOUS LOT about stuff like economics and intersectionality and must surely be at the tippy-top of the IQ scale. (I know that looks and clothes and stuff are so “bourgeois,” but I’m using my appearance to help me achieve my goal of taking over America for socialism. If I have to wear a $3,000 outfit to do that, so be it!)
After the event, though, a lot of people whose opinions I scorn anyway criticized me for deliberately looking sullen and disrespectful. I am not sorry one bit, so why should I apologize?
By the way, like my sisters, I got the memo on the dress code (can’t remember for sure, but this may have even been my idea): all-white for women, to honor the women’s suffrage movement after a century of women exercising their voting rights. I followed the dress code and wore just the right thing, and, wow, do I look good in white.
As for wearing white, kindly reference the previous letter and my response above. Miss Mannerly still has the impression that the wearing of white on this occasion was primarily done to show solidarity against the speaker, who was an invited guest. For that reason, she finds it inhospitable and therefore inappropriate.
As someone in the public eye, you are especially obligated to behave with grace and good manners, even though we live at a time when relatively few famous people do this. Miss Gladys Knight comes to mind most readily as a positive example. Why not try to model yourself after her? It occurs to Miss Mannerly that Miss Knight wore all-white when she sang at the Super Bowl, but in that case it wasn’t done to undermine anyone. Indeed, she was celebrating our entire nation.
As for taking over America for socialism, Miss Mannerly has observed that most political radicals have atrocious manners and hopes you will not follow in their footsteps. She also happens to know enough about history and economics to hope you will abandon your quest, for the sake of the country. (It’s very challenging to remain polite while losing basic freedoms and facing shortages of food and – ahem --bathroom tissue.) Miss Mannerly apologizes for interjecting her political opinion, though it has long been proven correct, and feels she should send you a small gift to make amends. How about an autographed copy of a book by Thomas Sowell?
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