“Let your speech be gentle, frank, sincere, straightforward, candid and faithful.” (St. Francis de Sales). I still remember overhearing my mom during her long phone conversations in the kitchen with her friends. Expression like these would naturally flow from her mouth, “Joanie, I was just calling to thank you so much for substituting for me the other day when I was a little under the weather, I am truly grateful for this sacrifice”, or “Mary, I thoroughly enjoyed our time together yesterday at lunch, thank you for making the time,” or “Hi Cathy, I heard that you just found out that you have cancer, and I wanted to let you know that you will be in my daily prayers and we are organizing a meal schedule for you and your family for the next few months, so please do not worry about that. Is there anything else that I can do for you?…” I was often reminded at our family dinner, (which by the way, I considered to be a huge blessing to have my 3 siblings and my mom and dad at the table for 90% of our dinners), to ask for things properly, “Tom, could you please pass the salt? Jim, when you finish serving yourself, could you please pass the chicken parmigiana? Deb, may I take your plate?, etc…” We could not talk with food in our mouth, we were constantly reminded to listen respectfully and not to interrupt, and we tried to stay on topic without bouncing all over the place in our discussions. The dinner table was a training camp, and I hope that for all the parents reading this article, you too can form this nobility and self-control in your kids.
CS Lewis remarked, “The ‘frankness’ of people sunk below shame is a very cheap frankness.” Although I appreciate transparency and clarity of expression, I do think some of our politicians and just ordinary people can be a little too “direct and clear” about how they feel or what they think. I still remember during my one year stint as a Director of Religious Education at a DC Parish, a small group of young moms were waiting in the hallway to talk with me. I asked if we could step into an empty classroom, and as we sat down, one of the moms said, “We were just wondering if you are sexually frustrated as a Catholic seminarian?” I was a little taken aback at how the question was phrased but I did explain the value of my vow of chastity, focusing on the detachment of my heart to love everyone and how Christ was my most intimate friend, who more than made up for this lack of sexual intimacy with another woman. Again, I am all for tough questions, but perhaps couching them and phrasing with more tact and prudence, at least for me, makes it a little easier to respond.
I recently held the door for an elderly couple on the Lexington Avenue entrance to Grand Central Station and motioned them to pass before me. The women said to her husband, “George, it has been awhile since anyone has held a door for us, especially here at Grand Central!” It’s these little things that matter so much in our human relations: Standing up when a woman leaves the table to use the restroom, offering your seat on a crowded subway or bus, deferring the seat with the best view in a restaurant, focusing the conversation on topics the other might prefer and taking the spotlight off of yourself, doing random acts of kindness without looking for pats on the back, truly “listening” with kindly attention, etc.
Forbes magazine wrote this Capsule Course in Human Relations many years ago:
“Five most important words: I am proud of you.
Four most important words: What is your opinion?
Three most important words: If you please.
Two most important words: Thank you.
Least important word: I.”