Paul Ford has published a charming article titled “How to be polite” on Medium. I love the general philosophy behind his article, and the specific gambits he shares. I’ve listed some of my favourite lessons from the article below. But please read the whole thing.
It pays to withhold judgement and be polite, even if the other person isn’t doing so. There could be a number of reasons why they are acting this way that don’t reflect their true character:
People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing.
Being polite can “let you draw a protective circle around yourself”.
What I found most appealing was the way that the practice of etiquette let you draw a protective circle around yourself and your emotions. By following the strictures… you could drag yourself through a terrible situation and when it was all over, you could throw your white gloves in the dirty laundry hamper and move on with your life.
Being polite simplifies your life:
The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment.
A gambit: “Wow. That sounds hard.”
When you are at a party and are thrust into conversation with someone, see how long you can hold off before talking about what they do for a living. And when that painful lull arrives, be the master of it. I have come to revel in that agonizing first pause, because I know that I can push a conversation through. Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.”
A game: “Raconteur”
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A friend and I came up with a game called Raconteur. You pair up with another Raconteur at a party and talk to everyone you can. You score points by getting people to disclose something about their lives. If you dominate the conversation, you lose a point. The two raconteurs communicate using hand signals and keep a tally on a sheet of paper or in their minds. You’d think people would notice but they are so amused by the attention that the fact you’re playing Raconteur escapes their attention.