The Secrets of Social Grace – Part One

The Secrets of Social Grace – Part One

by Leslie Ludy | September 1, 2010

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Philippians 2:4

Once upon a time, nearly every young woman was trained in the art of gracious living. She knew how to exemplify perfect etiquette in every situation. She knew how to dress and carry herself with dignity. She knew how to speak eloquently in conversation. She knew how to excel in hospitality, gift-giving, and community service. She knew how to sit up straight and listen intently when someone spoke to her. She knew how to smile and say hello to strangers. She knew how to stay focused on a task without becoming distracted by a thousand other things.

Before we were married, Eric found a very old book on young womenʼs etiquette. He thought I might find it interesting, so he got it for me. As I read through it, I was intrigued. I had always thought of the old-fashioned etiquette rules that were pushed upon the women of the past as being restrictive, uptight, and snooty. But this book made etiquette actually sound beautiful and refreshing. It was all about how a young woman could let her light shine in this world – how she could use her feminine gifts to bless and serve those around her. The etiquette guidelines were certainly far more extensive than anything expected in our modern times, and yet I found myself almost wishing I could return to a more old-fashioned way of living; a time when people actually treated each other with dignity and respect; a time when young women were refined and gracious in all aspects of their lives.

Today we are so far removed from gracious living that the word etiquette is basically non-existent in our vocabulary – and our lifestyles. Somewhere along the way, as the culture became more cavalier toward sin and selfishness, the idea of being dignified, refined, ladylike, gracious, and socially selfless faded into the background. Now, young women seem to get far more respect if they are loud, boisterous, rebellious, obnoxious, and sexually aggressive than if they are sweet, polite, graceful, refined, modest, and thoughtful. A popular bumper sticker in the college town where we live says: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” The message being propagated is that in order for a woman to really make any impact upon this world, she must shake off all those restrictive ideas about being polite or considerate, and become a pushy, in-your-face promoter of her own agenda.

First Peter 3:4 exhorts women to cultivate “the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”

Godʼs pattern is the very opposite of the “bad girl” image so applauded in our modern times. When Godʼs Spirit is given His rightful place in a young womanʼs life, He transforms her personality to reflect His beauty, His grace, and His selflessness. He can overtake any kind of personality; whether you are outgoing or more reserved. And either way, the end result when He is in control is that you decrease, so that He might increase. You donʼt lose your own personality; rather, your personality becomes what it was intended to be – a tool to draw eyes to Jesus Christ and not yourself.

Very few of us understand how to behave socially in a way that truly brings glory to Jesus Christ and showcases the stunning beauty of our King. I believe itʼs time that we as young women abandon our self-focused attitudes and return to the good old days when refinement and etiquette were commonplace. Rather than climbing the popularity ladder or playing manipulative social games, letʼs focus on being gracious, sensitive, and Christ-like to those around us. Letʼs bring true etiquette, true gracious living, back to life. We may not be able to go to finishing school or crochet a doily – but those things are trivial anyway. What matters to Christ is a selfless lifestyle.

Social Grace Secret #1: The Art of Being a Good Listener

This is one of the most common blind spots among young women, who are used to multitasking and doing twenty things at the same time. You may be used to emailing, texting, or writing notes while carrying on a conversation with someone, but unless you give that person your undivided attention, you send the message that they are not worthy of your complete focus and what they are saying is not very important. This is also true for public settings, like church sermons, concerts, or seminars. If you have never spoken on stage before, you might not realize that the person speaking or performing usually notices the people who are yawning, dozing, whispering, or texting far more than the others who are listening intently. I have been a speaker for over fourteen years, and can tell you from firsthand experience that it is extremely distracting, not to mention disconcerting, to glance out at the crowd and see someone sleeping, talking, or in some other way distracted while I am presenting a message. As a speaker your eye is naturally drawn to the handful of people who are not paying attention – those who are fidgeting, yawning, or whispering. They might not mean anything by it, but it still makes the statement, “This message is really boring. I wish I was somewhere else.” I canʼt count the number of times Iʼve been on stage speaking and have had to intentionally choose to ignore those few people who were texting, talking, or sleeping, and ask God for the strength to keep delivering my message in spite of the distraction it was causing me.

Being a speaker and interacting with so many thousands of people over the years has caused me to become a lot more conscious of showing respect when people talk to me. Often after a speaking event, I have a line of young women waiting to ask me a question. And yet, no matter how many people are waiting, and no matter how tired I am, I have learned to tune out all distractions and give my undivided attention to each individual person Iʼm talking to. Usually, when I take the time to talk and pray with someone (even though there are loads of reasons I should be rushed and distracted) it makes more of a lasting impact upon her life than anything I might have said from the stage.

Even on airplanes, I make an effort to pay attention when the flight attendants do their required “safety demonstration.” Iʼve watched them illustrate how to buckle the seatbelt “low and tight across your lap” and how to put the yellow oxygen mask “over your nose and mouth” about a thousand times. Itʼs not something I need to see again. But I can only imagine how awkward it must feel to stand in front of a hundred people to present a demonstration when no one is paying the slightest bit of attention. Listening to them talk is just a little way I can show respect.

Take some time to observe your listening habits during daily life. Do you show honor and respect to people who speak to you, or are you constantly multitasking or daydreaming when others speak? Many times, it is our family members who take the brunt of our self-focused attitudes. Because they are so familiar, we often donʼt treat them as worthy of the same level of respect we give to others. When a family member (or if you are married, your spouse) speaks to you, do you look them in the eye and really focus on what they are saying? Or do you type away on your phone or computer and absentmindedly mumble a response?

If your listening skills need a bit of polish, ask God to make you more sensitive and outward-focused. It might even help to make a list of specific situations in which youʼd like to become a better listener. Then make a concerted effort to change any bad habits that have formed in the area of your listening skills. It might take some time and practice. If you are like me, youʼll have to purposely ignore your inner craving to multitask while people are speaking to you. It might feel awkward and even unnecessary at first. You might be thinking, “I could so easily check my email during this conversation and it would save time later” or “maybe I should text Jenna during this sermon and see if she wants to meet me after church.” But in those moments, ask yourself how you would want to be treated if you were the one speaking. If you apply prayer and diligence to this area of your life, you will soon find that you are able to excel in this area. And you will discover the amazing joy of practicing selflessness – even in “little ways” like this one.*

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