Diplomacy, it turns out is the name of the game

Coming from a school like the convent, where there are special prizes for ‘good conduct’ and ‘courtesy’, it was inevitable that I be well aware of when and how to use my p’s and q’s. Being something of a teacher’s pet, I ended up even winning some of these prizes but the credit for this goes to the fact that during my school going days, I never really wondered over why I was doing what I was doing. All this ended the instant I left Convent. Two months in college and I decided that there was far too much hypocrisy in the world without me adding my tuppence worth to it. Thus, amidst the groans of my father and the telltale blushes of my mother, I started making some drastic attempts at honesty:

A guest would politely ask;
“May I smoke?”
And I would scream out;
“No.”

A colleague would inquire it I had time for her and I would reply;
“No.”

A teacher would tell me that she didn’t like my wok, my rebuttal would be;

“So what, I like it.”

It was only when my father handed me a 700 page book on manners and I actually pored through it that I understood why ‘hypocrisy and not second thought, maybe ‘hypocrisy’ is too harsh a word for what I want to say. The way a look at this situation, etiquettes are a means of respecting the other person’s space. The beauty of the human society is that every person has a space in it; the twist is that all spaces overlap. Thus when my brother chews his pizza with his mouth wide open so that I can see his spittle mixing with the mozzarella, he is not merely asserting his freedom to earth the way he wants to eat but also, violating my right to pleasant sights. The compromise between these4 two situations would be that he eat with his mouth close when there are people around him and do pretty much what he likes when he is alone. The idea of a social hypocrite is further explained by this incident where a friend walks up to me and asks;

“Have I lost weight.”

When in truth, I can tell no visible difference in her. Now there are three ways of answering this one; I could say “You definitely look slimmer” and so end up making her day. Or I could be rather mean and say “ummm you seen to put on some inches around your waist” and make her hate me for the rest of my life. It I wanted to be scrupulously honest; I could opt for a safe;

“Oh, have you been dieting?”

Or if I wanted to spare her feelings and yet not lie, I could probably say: “The light isn’t very good in here and so it’s hard to tell.” The final choice will depend on how honest I generally am and how badly I want to maintain her friendship. The problem with always going for; “Oh yes, you’ve shed loads of pounds but you didn’t have much to loose in the beginning.” Is that soon people start thinking of you as the Miss. Goody Two Shoes and so stop giving any weight to your opinions. This happened to me once. It was election time at school and fevers were running high. I knew I had a good vote bank but I was definitely not going to challenge it. Hence, when a girl walked up to me wearing this dreadful blackish-brown lip-color, even before she asked for my opinion I commented:

“Hey, what a cool color.”

A smile. A vote, I thought happily. “Want to try it,” she asked. What could I say: “Sure,” I muttered weakly. All day long, where ever I went people asked:

“Hey what bit you on your lips?”

A few days after my lipstick statement, a friend of mine brought some dress patterns to school to discuss with us. We were sitting in a big circle at break – time and I was bout to point out one that I particularly liked when my friend intervened:

“No offence Ayesha, but I’m not sure I want suggestions from some one who thinks mud lipstick is cool.”

There you have it: I was snubbed outright and proper. And on top of that the girl was just wearing the mud lipstick as a dare and was overheard remarking that she would never want a Head Girl who had such bad taste in make – up. The moral of this story is pretty obvious; always be yourself.

A better comment of her lipstick would have been: “Interesting color,” (which isn’t a lie but isn’t exactly the truth either.) And to her question about whether I wanted to try on the lipstick, I could easily have answered:

“I don’t really think it’s me.”

Diplomacy, it turns out, is the name of the game. No where manners more important than in career. The only rule my father has ever bothered teaching me is:

“Be nice.”

And this is the one rule he has led his life by. At the college where he is a Professor, the protocol a teacher receives depends on the number of societies headed by that particular teacher. Never greatly concerned by these internal politics, my father stayed far away from all the canvassing and dinner bashes that took place at the beginning of last year. Thought of as the “nice guy” around, he was invited to all dinners and ended up entertaining the guests with his famous college anecdotes. To his great surprise (though everyone else claimed that they were expecting it) he ended up being nominated head of more societies than he could manage. His secret remains:

“Be nice.”

Never have I seen him brush aside a junior or ignore a student or effuse to answer his cell even during a meeting. In today’s world, when the rush starts at dawn and doesn’t even end at night no one has time but then just how much time does it take to smile when you catch someone’s eye or cheerfully inquire “And how are you ding?” when someone calls.

Try it and I’m sure you’ll like it

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