Proper etiquette is tricky as it is often highlights our position in society, or the in workplace, or even our own homes. At its best, etiquette has the capacity to invoke thoughtfulness and hospitality, a gentle set of guidelines to help us navigate the situations and places that we share with our fellow human beings. At the same time, it's easy to use etiquette to distance ourselves from others. An overuse of formality can be about separation, creating feelings of confusion and shame.
When people don't know the social rules in a situation, they're declaring that their strangers, that they're not one of us. How we respond to that, both as the us and not-us, is critical. If we choose separation, then we have chosen narrowness and suffering. If we choose kindness, then we have chosen connection and respect and opened the world around us. Which way do you choose to live?
As with most important things in life, etiquette offers two distinct possibilities: it's a place where you can get caught and suffer or it's a place where you can express ease and kindness. The choice is ours and it's quite simple, in my view. First, always do your best to follow and be aware of the etiquette of your situation. If you're unsure, ask to be taught. Take for granted that there is probably something you're doing wrong and be humble and learn to cultivate curiosity (and humor) in the midst of mistakes. Likewise, if you see someone floundering, help them. Assume that what seems to be rudeness is only simple ignorance. Don't cling so tightly to proper etiquette that you lose your humanity and the capacity to laugh. Be generous with people.
Either way, try being kind and see what happens.
Related: Weekend Meditation: On Formality
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