It’s working your way out of a tight corner – sometimes which either occurs intentionally or not. It makes sense to oil the wheels of society by being charming rather than being churlish. There is sometimes something quite magical about all of this. For instance, simple gestures such as sending a card to say you enjoyed meeting someone for the first time, or telling the cab driver that his short cuts done you a huge favor, will work wonders for good relations. Finding something positive to say to your child’s head teacher before launching into your complaint about school dinners, makes her more likely to pay you heed. Now and again there is a day when the sunshine belongs to you.
Short circuiting a sales assistant’s aggressive manner by smiling and saying, “thank you so much for your help and I’m sorry you seem to be having a bad day”, could just make her think twice before re-cycling her infectious hostility to other customers. A leading novelist and a mother of four, says, “Networking is a vital aspect of life that extends way beyond the work place. If mother’s had to pay for what we get in terms of everyday barter from one another-child care, lifts, teas, treats, and school runs, the cost would run into hundreds. But you need to be nice to fit into the mothers’ network, because if you’re not easy to get on with, people will simply back off and refuse to be drawn into your net. One psychologist points out that we learn in the first few months of life that survival depends on interacting successfully with other people to elicit their care. But although everyone is born with a seed of social skill, it looks as if later childhood experience determines how fully it generates and flowers.
If you were raised in a house where there was little intimacy and praise, it is not surprising if you habitually deliver a snub when a kindness would be more appropriate. If you grew up as an only or by a long way the oldest child in the family, you may well have developed a very strong need to reach out and make contact with other children simply because there were none to play with at home. You picked up the basic skills of social engagement-being cheerful, helpful, making others feel wanted almost unconsciously because they were necessary and rewarding. Children from a large family are often less bothered about engaging outsiders. They don’t need the social input quite so much and sometimes develop a siege mentally that seems to exclude outsiders. Parents have, perhaps, an even greater position that family position on a child’s socializing style. “The greatest favor parents can bestow” says a renowned clinical psychologist, “is to provide a home that is open to friends and a good deal of social activity, allowing them to grow up naturally confident in the company of other adults, picking up habits of consideration, conversation, and hospitality, along with reading, writing, and table manners.” Such children generally regard outsiders as people who could well enhance their lives, rather than fearful nuisances, who are best, disregarded or skirted around with minimum contact like drunks or public transport.
But it is wrong for a parent to instil such excessive confidence, that the child doesn’t feel that he has to make the least effort to endear, and grow up fully expecting the rest of the world to appreciate him as much as his parents did. We’ve all encountered annoying social egocentrics who assume they are the center of your world as well as their own. You can see their embryo in the 10 - year old child who always gets her own way when she tugs impatiently at her mother’s coat sleeve to stop her chatting in the high street, “come on Mum! I want to go home! Now!” it’s arguable, therefore that a little insecurity is more socially motivated than a lot of confidence.
Another mother of four owns she’d love to be cool about being socially accepted but admits, “I’m obviously a very insecure person, and because I can’t bear to discover we’ve not been asked to a party. This baffles my husband, who is not exactly a social butterfly. And doesn’t understand why I care, when I’ve said that I don’t much like the hostess anyway. The logic of not liking her but still hating the thought of not being invited to her house completely baffles him.” (And) work is necessary because even if you’re outgoing and affable, you can’t always take it for granted that the world will purr at your approach.
I have off-days - and I’m sure most people do - when every shop - assistant, phone caller, and bank teller sets my teeth on edge. I catch myself taking against someone on first acquaintance because of a frown, a set of tips or an off-hand comment. Or I drive through our village so pre-occupied that, later, two acquaintances rib me for failing to return their hand waves. At such moments, it seems to me important to check the downward spiral misanthropy before it gets out of hand. I find myself explaining to the unrequited wavers that I wasn’t being a “snooty bitch”, but I’ve been feeling a bit distracted actually, what with having suffered a minor burglary, lost a favorite brooch, and worrying about a friends test result from the hospital. Pondering my own stress-induced crosspatches reminds me that others, off-course, and may have equally legitimate and invisible excuses for theirs.
The woman I dismissed as an incurable cow could be exactly that. But isn’t it more likely she is having an off day too fearing for her job, perhaps, or fretting about her child’s prolonged sore throat? English social mores don’t encourage her to spill her anxieties, to all corners, so I easily misconstrue her abstracted, pinched manners as unfriendliness. Given another chance or other circumstances, we might find the common ground that often draws strangers into compatibility (“so you had a Russian grandmother too?”) giving her the benefit of the doubt, I should therefore put a lid in my Pandora’s Box of indifference and ill-will and conclude that she needs the social equivalent of tender loving care as much as I do. The world, after all, would be a sourer place, if we all dumped affability and presented our grouchiest selves in the thousands of passing social encounters we have every year. Life throws quite enough of aggravations without you or me gumming up the works with our temperamental tuppenny-worth. Surely then it is better to be mellow because it doesn’t get anymore free range than this out there and on the edge.
I’m stuck with exhilaration nonetheless. Put enough people in a sufficiently capacious room and they raise a din that makes you think of graves opening on Judgment Day. A mist seems to settle over them as well, a shimmer or a mirage that may just be an effect of body heat, but which is dangerously suggestive of a communal halo. Then again it may simply be a cigar smoke, for no dainty rules of consideration for the sensitivities of others obtain here; you smoke, you sing, you elbow, you embrace. May this be what eating and drinking should be, an activity so dense and cramped and fleshy, that you don’t have the space to distinguish your own individuality and cannot tell whether it’s your stomach you’re feeding or someone else’s.