BY LINDA SWANSON, RETIRED ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PRINICIPAL
A quick reflection on this month’s article title would probably cause you to think, “she’s writing about manners”. Actually my scope is greater than being polite but not intended to diminish the importance of those priceless courtesies in men, women and children. Growing up, I had an uncle who was the supreme model of gentle and gracious. The kindnesses he showed my aunt (and others) were, and continue to be, above and beyond what is the norm. It has become a family tradition in our home, when my husband mirrors that pleasant behavior, for me, I say “Thank you, Uncle Jim” and then follow it up with a loving pat on the back and he understands, completely, my respect and adoration for the kindness shown. These acts, for both men, aren’t generally costly. They are ones that help and support something someone else needs or wants. Uncle Jim and my husband, as well as others do it even when it might inconvenience them.
So now the dilemma – why does this enviable trait seem to come so easily to some and not to others? And for some the old Swedish saying applies: “Too soon oldt, too late smart.” In my little world, my uncle always had it and my husband has it more today than yesterday but he would say he isn’t sure how it developed.
By now we’re all thinking the same thing – this gentle gracious training begins at home. Our homes need to be our nation’s boot camp for gentle, gracious behavior as we prepare our children for life. These behaviors are both caught and taught as children observe their fathers and other male role models pay them out. We all know that our sons, nephews and grandsons are watching – we just need to remember that with our actions. Do we “go the extra mile” for our spouses, children, neighbors, extended families and even our community? Quite honestly, it’s not nearly a mile, yet to the receiver it seems like way over ten miles.
So men, what does the gentle in gentlemen look like? Are you willing to admit that holding or opening the door, giving a lady your seat, escorting/walking behind the females, carrying the “heavy stuff” and walking on the curbside of the sidewalk even as a protector are all parts of your role as the gentleman? But maybe gracious, just isn’t a behavior that matches a male’s masculinity?
Such a fine line – this graciousness. You probably can think of some great examples but let me suggest a few. Gracious behavior is first extended to everyone not just your family, your friends or a particular age or social group. Graciousness is characterized by generosity of spirit, mercy and compassion. It’s stopping to chat with your neighbor for a few minutes rather than waving and hurrying into the house. It’s asking a question, when in a group conversation, to the one who seems left out. It’s acknowledging a guest as they enter a social event
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you are attending. It’s accompanying your wife, child or a friend on an undesirable errand just so they will have some company. It even includes that lost art of listening, eye contact, and sincere interest when having a conversation. And, yes, I’m suggesting we do those things even in our busy, somewhat self-centered culture. Remember Uncle Jim? He has been known to drive my aunt to any area post office – even late at night – so that the birthday card she mailed would get to the receiver on their special day. Again, it’s not the mile – it’s the extra that makes it gracious.
Now, should you as fathers get discouraged when it seems that all your efforts seem to fall on deaf ears and your boys just don’t seem to “take it on”? Of course not. Winston Churchill always encouraged us to never give up on anything. The traits of gentle and gracious take time – just give that nudging reminder, without exasperation, and most importantly acknowledge it when you see it in them and in others. Imagine the joy of one dad when I called home after I observed his 5th grade son carefully take the time to close a door that would have slammed behind him where a meeting was in session. Now that’s gracious behavior!
Does it seem as though I have focused on the males in our lives this month? I admit that’s true, but not intentionally to say that only men need to acquire these behaviors. It’s proba-
bly because I have been thinking about Father’s Day. And, I know it’s because these mild attributes are often viewed as ones that females more readily possess. No wonder I admire them so in a male!
Quite honestly, the inspiration for this article came from a renewed friendship. We were in Texas, this winter, visiting a couple we met nearly thirty years ago. Mary was bringing me up to date on her married son. She told this precious story more out of thankfulness than pride but the moral is the reason for my repetition. When her husband was unexpectedly critically ill following an operation, she called her son to come to the hospital. He seemed a bit distant and said, “I’ll be along, I have a few errands to run first.” This reaction surprised her, but her confidence in him was renewed when he arrived at the hospital with personal hygiene items and some delicious snacks he purchased, knowing she would have to stay the night. Why? Because he had, while growing up, watched both his mom and dad do similar gracious acts. Moral: model the behavior you want to see in the next generation.
Linda Swanson, retired Southwestern Elementary Principal. She earned her B.A. degree from Houghton College and M.S. in Early Childhood Education from Fredonia State. Mrs. Swanson is a lifelong resident of southwestern New York State. Her early teaching experience was at Randolph Elementary. She currently enjoys substitute teaching and volunteering at Z.E.A.L., an after school tutoring program at Zion Covenant church and also a volunteer for Love Inc.