Graciousness is more than knowing a set rules from a book of manners; it’s about heart and compassion.
I first learned this with a story I read in grade school. I think it was part of a reading and comprehension test in the 60s, and online sources say it was contributed by Cori Connors to Guideposts in March 1997. The story is told by a woman named Lizzy whose father was generous and kind, known to invite wandering hobos in for a meal. One night her father invited in a man named Henry, who spoke little English. Here the rest of the story:
“When dinner was ready Henry stood until we were all seated, then gently perched on the edge of his chair, his head bowed and his hat in his lap. The blessing was said and dishes were passed from hand to hand.
“We all waited, as was proper, for our guest to take the first bite. Henry must have been so hungry he didn’t notice us watching him as he grabbed his knife. Carefully he slid the blade into the pile of peas before him, and then lifted a quivering row to his mouth without spilling a single pea. He was eating with his knife! I looked at my sister May and we covered our mouths to muffle our snickers. Henry took another knife full, and then another.
“My father, taking note of the glances we were exchanging, firmly set down his fork. He looked me in the eye, then took his knife and thrust it into the peas on his plate. Most of them fell off as he attempted to lift them to his mouth, but he continued until all the peas were gone.
“Dad never did use his fork that evening, because Henry didn’t. It was one of my father’s silent lessons in acceptance. He understood the need for this man to maintain his dignity, to feel comfortable in a strange place with people of different customs. Even at my young age I understood the greatness of my father’s simple act …”
Coming from a family where eating peas with a knife would have been outrageous bad manners, I marveled at this thought:
Breaking the rules can be way to show kindness.
As I spanned the years into adulthood, I realized graciousness:
- Is more about compassion than demonstrating decorum
- Is better explained by Do no harm rather than Be correct
- Comes from a heart willing to go the extra mile instead of feel entitled
Gracious people have a different perspective on life. They embody gentleness of spirit and strength of character, able to balance healthy self respect with the ability to sacrifice ego so they can provide comfort to others.
Gracious people are are soft caring words to a battered soul and strong comfort to heavy hearts:
- They give up their seat or place in line to their elders or to others in more need.
- They understand that you cannot honor one person by dishonoring another, such as the smear campaigns of political opposition.
- The most gracious people I know notice the little things — not to be nosy, but because they are less self absorbed.
- They realize hospitality is an ever open door or a ready invitation to conversation over coffee.
- They can give a smile, a hug, or a warm hello because it comes from a positive place of joy in their hearts.
I’ve always appreciated gracious people. It’s hard to be one, though. It is a goal I’m still striving to attain.
Was there a time in your life when an act of graciousness affected you profoundly?
Have you ever been successful at being gracious to the truly ungracious?
Photo credit: speech path girl