Because I am a woman of a certain age, I am having fun startling people. Frankly, I am currently invisible. Neither fat nor thin, long past attractive, I have decided to draw attention to the fast-fading art of being polite.
My favorite trick is to open a door then step to the side and with one arm, sweep my hand toward the inside of the building and say, in a voice with a smile, “After you!” I’ve brought people to a dead stop in front of me. They think it’s a trick. I’ll add, “Please,” while I incline my head toward the inside of the building.
It works well with automatic sliding doors, because I step aside and let the people who are inside step out. It makes sense to do this anyway, but when done with the arm sweep and a smile, it freezes people in their tracks.
On the other hand, if a man gestures that I should step out of the elevator first, I’ll reward him with a smile and a “You just made my day. Thank you.” I’ve seen men grow several inches, just from that small kindness.
Occasionally a woman will say, “Letting me out the door first doesn’t make up for being treated like a second-class citizen.” Well, no, of course not. But at that moment, no one is treating me like anything except a dignified woman who is being let through the door first. I don’t think it means any more than that. And I am enjoying it tremendously.
The busier the escalator, the TSA line, the bank, the more a slight sign of politeness brings on a smile. And secretly, it makes me feel generous, too. It’s a small shift in the fragile fabric of our culture, and I’m secretly happy to have the power to make something gentle happen.
––Quinn McDonald loves surprising people who do not expect or remember the art of being polite.