I was driving my friend home from chemotherapy, and out of the blue she said, “You know, the day I found out about this, was the day I was set free.”
What?! How can having a disease like this be liberating, I thought.
She went on to explain that by finding out she might only have a little while to live, it made her reprioritize things, and one of the things that got left off the list was politeness. “I don’t have time anymore to waste on fear, and politeness is just being afraid that you might offend someone.”
Oooookay, I thought, although I’ve never seen that definition in the dictionary, but I suppose you could see it that way.
She went on, “How many times do you stand and listen to someone you don’t really want to because you’re too polite to just walk away, too polite to tell them you’re busy, or too polite to tell them you just don’t care?”
I gave a half shrug. She had a point. I am one of those who will simply keep my mouth shut while someone yammners away at me because I don’t want to be impolite. But is that fear? Maybe it is, I thought, because I’m always saying ‘I’m afraid to hurt their feelings by telling them to leave me alone or that I don’t really care…’. So, instead, I just let them take up my time and yammer away at me.
“But what about being polite and gracious when someone comes to visit?” I asked her.
She looked at me and asked, “Is it someone you really want to visit with?”
“Well, not always, but I still feel as if I need to be gracious and a good host. I mean, I can hardly just tell them to go away because I don’t want to visit with them.”
She was quiet for so long that I thought perhaps she had fallen asleep, after all, the therapy did tend to wipe her out. Finally, she answered though, “If I don’t like someone or don’t really want to see them, I would treat them the way I would prefer to be treated: honestly. Rather than leading them on and letting them think that I really care or that I’m really their friend, I would tell them. But there’s no reason you have to be less than gracious about it.
But graciousness is different than politeness—graciousness comes from empathy and caring, while politeness is a mask that covers up how someone truly feels.”
At that point we got where we were going and the discussion was forgotten, at least by my friend. But I haven’t forgotten about it. In fact, I’ve thought about what she said a lot during the past months, mostly as I watched how others acted—smiling and saying “no problem” when, in fact, there was a definite problem, or acting as if they care when someone is talking about their pets or family when all they really care about is finding an excuse to get away.
I finally decided that I, too, would become liberated—liberated from the falseness of politeness. Now, I no longer sit still while people yammer at me about things I don’t wish to listen to. Now, I no longer give them the false impression that I care, when I don’t. However, I’m always gracious about it. And if someone seeks to establish a relationship outside of the work place and they are not someone I wish to be social with, then, again, I’m honest but Gracious.
While, I’m not 100% sold on the difference between polite and gracious, I am no longer afraid to be honest with myself and with others. But being honest with someone doesn’t mean you have to be rude or hurtful. Therefore, I always make sure I’m gracious while being honest, because my friend was right – it is much more liberating to be honest with ourselves and others than to pretend we care when we don’t.