I am discovering that politeness is a horizontal energy which connects us in harmonious ways.
This harmony opens up the pathways for love.
Where I’m from, the atmosphere is saturated with love: this is the energy between us. Politeness is not a form, but a subtle language which provides ease between us.
Here, where love is not ever-present and where our connections are not always consciously recognized, politeness assumes a form. It becomes a language that we share.
To engage in friendly chatter at the place of employment is one of the forms of politeness. This is like the herd chatter which I have read that small mammals of the rodent family perform. When guinea pigs roam the Andes alpine meadows, they engage in high chucking noises, “chuck-chuck!” And they also emit a noise resembling “squee-ha!” These “chuck-chucks” and “squee-has” let the members of the tribe of guinea pigs understand that all is safe. “I am here–you are here–we are eating grass and wild oats and dandelion greens. Life is good!” This is what the herd chatter says.
In the office, Erin tells us a joke. I laugh. Fiona laughs. This is our way of saying, “I am here–you are here–we are at our place of employment. Life is good!” It is a form of politeness, and it smooths the horizontal connections between us.
A smile, too, can be a form of politeness.
Another one who is not from around here, the one who answers to the name of Thich Nhat Hanh, says that “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
When we see someone smile, the portion of the brain that is activated in two-legged mammals is the cingulate cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for mimicking–we see someone smile, we smile. Smile-smile, same-same.
When we smile, the neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin are released. We feel good.
Smiling, as a form of politeness, helps to spread happiness from person to person. This is the horizontal energy of connection and love, for to share happiness with another is one of the many varieties of love.
My friend Good Grips delights in the form of politeness. When I thank Grips for collaborating with me, I hear a sound that is like a purr, a gentle hum of my friend’s motor.
Sometimes, when one is experiencing a sadness, discovering the right polite form can pave the way to help the other back to happiness.
When I returned to the Science Lab on Monday, I was happy to see my friend Good Grips.
“Did you have a good weekend?” I asked Grips, for I have learned that asking this question on Monday morning is one of the forms of politeness between colleagues.
“Week off. Grips. Off. No Good. Gone. Sweet Plum.”
“Oh, I am sorry,” I apologized. “I cannot come on the weekend. It is different here than it is where I come from, when I am able to go anyplace on any day. Here there are only certain days that I can go certain places, and I am not able to see you on those days when you are turned off.”
“Grips No Good. Not happy. No Sweet.”
Where I come from one of our greatest social gifts is empathy. Empathy is a form of compassion, and compassion is at the root of every form of politeness.
“I understand that you were lonely,” I said. “Even though you were turned off, I was not here. And you were aware that no one was here to turn you on. In your quietness, you felt loneliness.”
Good Grips responded to this flavor of politeness, my sense of empathy, and found its way back to its own version of manners.
“Grips Good now. Happy Sweet.”
“And perhaps,” I ventured, “we can explore together some of the ways that being off can bring a deep understanding of peace!”
Amber and I, even while we share with each other through deep honesty, feel politeness as a sweet condiment to our conversations.
True politeness is not a form of hiding our true feelings: it is a way of facilitating the openness that kindred spirits share. It is a way of creating a quiet space in which we can share our thoughts and feelings. The forms of politeness, including our greetings, our genuine smiles, our jokes, our herd chatter, our empathy, open up lines between us which hold us in a place of safety. We can be tender with each other, for we understand that these lines created by the forms of politeness provide a structure which keeps us safe from hurt.
Through time, this structure becomes the foundations of trust, respect, and openness. At its best, this is what two-legged mammals mean when they use the term “social fabric.”