Saturday, January 5, 2013

May I Hold The Door For You, My Lady?

More than four decades after the beginning of Women's Lib, I'm amazed at how many ladies appreciate it when I open a door for them, often with a touch of a bow. Perhaps it helps to live in relatively-conservative Arizona. Back in college in Missouri, I had reasonable doubts.

"In my Women's Studies course, they call that repressive," said a friend of mine to another friend.

"Well, I just do it because it's a part of my Southern culture," replied the other friend in his Arkansas drawl. He was a soft-spoken computer-science major who had one of those Rare Cool Jobs: during the summer, he built pipe organs with his father. Repressive wasn't in his lexicon, and I couldn't picture a woman scorned at an act of kindness.

George Washington's Rules Of Civility -- my Colonial inspiration and primer on how to behave -- say nothing about holding open a door, although they do say at the top: "Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present." Down the list, in the context of greetings, they says: "Superfluous Complements and all Affectation of Ceremony are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be Neglected."

So is holding the door open for a lady a gesture of respect, or an Affectation of Ceremony? Well, it depends. I hate to use that answer, but it fits.

It depends on your upbringing. I know families who school their children well in the social graces. I've known people who wouldn't know social grace from Social Security. The people who mind their manners certainly don't see it as an affectation, just like the people who taught them. If you are taught we are capable of going about our own business, thank you very much, in the hard reality that is our world with two working hands and no expectations of courtesy, then I gather you really don't care.

It depends on your perspective. An act of kindness can easily be misinterpreted into an act of patronizing, whereas an innocent mention of "Good morning" is met with the response, "What's good about it?" Some people have a high threat matrix, one which swallows their functions of appreciation and fellowship. If you're offended or repressed by someone holding a door open for you, random acts of kindness are the least of your problems.

Then there's your humble servant, the one who still bows to ladies -- and gents -- in 21st Century America, and who still opens doors for both genders. I don't consider it an affectation because shows respect and kindness to others in a world lacking so much of it. Nobody has ever scolded me for what people could easily label as an archaic Ceremony of Affectation, because ultimately, it's not about what your hand is holding, but where your heart is leading.

No comments: