Be Gracious, Even if it Kills You

“Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but be gracious if it kills you.”  ― Elsie De Wolfe

“Be gracious even if it kills you.” I laugh a little at that, because at this very moment, I am on hold with our internet provider, AGAIN. We’ve had this trouble for months. I’ll admit, I’ve been tempted to lose my patience, even growl a little. But I won’t, because when you are gracious, you don’t. I realize this tech is just trying to do her job. It’s not her fault. So I decide to remain calm and pleasant (if persistent). And guess what?! Looks like I’m getting a new modem! Free of charge, everyone’s happy and everybody wins.

Graciousness is defined as being kind, thoughtful and aware of others. Benevolent. Courteous. Every day we are all faced with challenges or even challenging people. Technology may have complicated things even more. Today’s technology has created a social system in which most of our interactions have become instant and, all too often, impersonal. That means we’re going to have to be even more mindful. Because without it, carefully cultivated relationships can fail just as instantly and impersonally.

Southern women, you know what I mean. Perhaps I am preaching to the choir. Here in the South, we believe being gracious is not just a behavior strategy for tough times, but a way of life. And it’s everywhere. You just need to know what you’re looking for. In preparation for this article, I decided to spend a week ‘people watching,’ (which is really fascinating by the way!). I visited the airport, the DMV, the gym, the grocery store and more. I carefully recorded what I witnessed. I discovered that graciousness presents common characteristics. Gracious people…

  1. Work to find the good in other people and situations.
  2. Are kind to strangers.
  3. Practice gratitude, and are quick to show appreciation.
  4. Are consistently polite and courteous in all relationships and environments – at home, work, or in public, and with family, friends, co-workers and strangers.
  5. Shy away from the limelight, and often cast it elsewhere.
  6. Respect others’ opinions, even if they disagree. They do not respond to confrontation because they recognize the difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable.
  7. Are good listeners. They understand that often it is kinder to listen than to talk about themselves. They listen openly without over-sharing, judging, distracting or anticipating the next topic change.
  8. Do not hold grudges. They make every effort to forgive and forget past transgressions.
  9. Do not compete with others and they avoid “one-upping.”
  10. Are careful not to embarrass others, and will not draw attention to others’ mistakes or shortcomings.
  11. Maintain awareness of the feelings and sensitivities of those around them. They consciously refrain from using offensive words, gestures or behaviors.
  12. Actively seek to make others feel comfortable, welcome, and appreciated.
  13. Consider that most people are doing the best they can with what they know.
  14. Are ‘grace under fire.’ They never lose their temper, they anticipate frustration and employ strategies to stay calm and focused.
  15. Recognize when they are wrong and make amends.

Gracious people enjoy rich relationships and rewarding experiences. They are the peacekeepers and problem solvers in our communities. They may be a group leader or a quiet, consistent presence in the shadows. Some are extroverts while others are introverts. But make no mistake, gracious people are not weak. Indeed, being gracious in the face of adversity or an impersonal, instant gratification society, such as this, takes the greatest strength of character.

Learning to be gracious may be a challenge for some. We may need to slow down, to pay closer attention to our behavior and those around us. Sometimes we are going to have to ignore the ungraciousness of others, and rise above it. Being gracious won’t kill you; on the contrary, with practice and patience, graciousness can become a very rewarding way of life.