Elevating Manners

I'd just been to a three-hour opera, a cocktail party and a painfully long talent show; so when I say I was tired, that's an understatement.  I was head-throbbingly tired.  The kind of tired that causes your whole being to become focused on the act of getting home.  I counted the minutes in the subway (only three more stops!), then the subway steps (okay, just a few more to the top).  At last, the final stretch: the short block to my building.  (Thank god, two minutes more and I can take my shoes off and lie down.) 

As I entered my lobby I saw I was in luck: My extremely slow elevator was there waiting for me!  A neighbor, a man who lived on the eighth floor, was already standing inside the car. We made eye contact and I smiled in greeting. Then to my dismay--which was swiftly followed by outrage--he looked away and the doors closed in my face.  It felt like a physical slap. I wanted to cry.  How unbelievably rude, I thought.  So typical of the brutal narcissism of modern society.

I took out my frustration on the Up button, pushing it furiously and repeatedly.  As I watched the elevator ascend to the 8th floor, then inch back down again, I  vowed to give my neighbor a piece of my mind the next time I saw him.  And then--there he was when the doors opened.

"I'm SO sorry," he said earnestly. " I pushed the 'Open Door' button but it didn't work.  I wanted to come back down to make sure you knew I didn't do that on purpose."

How happy this small gesture made me!  It only took five minutes out of my neighbor's life, but how many people would have gone to the trouble?  I was at once embarrassed I had thought the worst of him and cognizant that within our reach is a much higher quality of life, if only all of us were to behave as this man did.  We often forget that tiny acts of kindness, behavior that takes into account the well-being of others, can truly elevate our lives.


  1. Jeanne, what a wise post. I often take umbrage and tend to think the worst of my fellow humans--Oh he won't pay me back, I think, so I obnoxiously remind someone of the money I lent. I'm not "a God fearin' Christian" or anything, but my sister, who is a jewdist, tells me "Ye of little faith" and it's very true. Sometimes we need to have a little faith that someone will act kindly....

    ...But what do you do when you're in a crowded indoor Shake Shack and you have a party of six and there's nowhere to sit and you're wearing heels for the first time in five years and there are two guys just jabbering and jabbering over trays full of trash. A full ten minutes went by as I stood in the crowded room waiting for a table to empty, so I asked the two guys if we could use their table. They were totally affronted and pointed out that I had not asked people at another table (well, they were still eating...) as if it was a racial slur because the people (still eating) at the other table were white and they were black. I hate that. This had nothing to do w/ skin color and everything to do with two people in a crowded restaurant knowingly lingering over trays of trash...So what then, should I have had faith and just waited. Kept my mouth shut?

  2. A Shake Shack--or any eating establishment where there are no waiters or maitre d'to serve as hosts and help people negotiate seating, etc.-- tends to exacerbate the problem of our waning code of polite behavior.

    I think in the same situation I might have done what you did: asked the men (with as nice a smile as I could muster) if they might be finishing soon. Ideally, I suppose, one would not be wearing high heels, and therefore have had the stamina to beseech the diners silently, with an expectant look.