why social niceties are really surprising

I just googled the term social niceties and it fetched about 903.000 returns (I love that “about”). Most of the top ones were definitions. That’s actually surprising, but perhaps it shouldn’t be, for the discussion ahead. Then there were a number of posts of people complaining (they ‘way overramp my rants, actually) about those people who do not return their social niceties and how frustrating and embarrassing they find that, especially in front of their children, who they’re trying to teach to show these niceties.

See? I’m so nice! I follow the protocol! Aren’t I wonderful!

And yes, we live with these formalized ideas and that’s what makes us human and that’s what makes us part of a community.


That’s what we want to have, when we want to pretend that everything is alright in the world.

There’s some TV show in the back of my head where the main actress spends a lot of time and energy making sure that everyone likes her, but that of course, backfires badly. We can’t have that, even in TVLand.

But I had the opposite situation today. I was out at the library, on my way to drop off mismatched mail to someone in the neighborhood (we both have the same numeral on our address, but off by a few blocks. This included a bill for college tuition. I certainly don’t want to pay that for them, nor be responsible for them not receiving it, even though IT WAS THE POST OFFICE’S FAULT [end rant].) As I was walking, I saw a woman who I know walking with another woman, along with a little dog. As I got closer, we said hello and we continued in our own directions.

Now why am I citing this? Nothing unusual, really. Here are the extra details. This woman is a recent widow, her husband having dropped dead of a heart attack this past winter.  She’s my age, approximately. The woman she was with (who did not seem familiar) was wearing an arm compression sleeve that covered almost her whole arm. I’m hobbling on my improving ankle, but I know I’m slightly limping.

But what do we say to each other?

“How are you doing?”

“Nice to see you!”

“Fine, thank you.”

And maybe that was true.

And by that, we showed our social niceties. And that we really didn’t care enough to find out more.

Because, well, we were close enough to say hi and not close enough for more.

And we were walking the opposite way.

So, if someone doesn’t show that nicety, it may mean that they don’t want to pretend.

And here’s where I feel that I should say something about what we should be accomplishing this new month of Ellul.

But that is something I guess I’m still looking for, down the road.


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