When I was 15 I got a copy of “Emily Post’s Etiquette” for Christmas. I was totally unimpressed and probably said something charming like, “This is so dumb”. “Emily” sat on my dresser collecting dust until the boredom of some Saturday afternoon drove me to check it out. (This was way before the internet and cell phone explosion.) I began to realize that maybe this Post lady actually had something to say…
My admiration for her sage advice grew along with my career in mental health. One may not initially connect Emily Post with help for depression, anxiety, and complex family systems. But, take a closer look.
There are at least 3 ways the pages of “Emily Post’s Etiquette” rival many self-help and traditional counseling books.
1. “Dear God, make me a bird. So I can fly far… far, far away from here.” - Jenni Gump
If you struggle with social anxiety chances are this famous line has crossed your mind during a dinner party or two. We can’t avoid them all! Prepare for your next event like an Emily Post Ninja Warrior and check out the chapter “The Good Conversationalist”. It gives you clear and practical tips for talking to people you don’t know. When we’re really nervous it can be tough to come up with anything, so being armed in advance with some specific lines can ease you into flow of conversation. See, we knew you could do it!
As a bonus, she includes sections like “Dealing with Awkward Situations” and “Unkind Remarks”. Both of which by definition catch us off guard. You don’t have to freeze like a deer in headlights the next time you get trapped talking to that person who knows it all.
2. Readers of Emily Post have a leg up on getting along with others.
Even the happiest of families goes through some difficult stuff. A very wise soul once told me, “Conflict is the nature of human relationships.” How true! When handled with poise, these inevitable tough times can be much less painful.
Emily’s chapter “Your Personal Life” covers several hot topics like “Spouses, ex-spouses, in-laws, and other relatives” and “Dissolving a relationship”. Need to extend support and condolences? There’s guidance for that too.
Even if you’re not actually going through these situations yourself, you definitely know someone who is. It feels so much better to be able to say the right thing at the right time… whether that person in front of you is a fuming soon to be ex-relation or a friend who's just lost a close loved one.
3. Manners can be a real mood booster because you’re showing people you care about them.
Depression is a modern day epidemic. This comes from about 1 million different factors. However, we know one simple thing to be true. Doing something for someone else is a real mood booster. Depression steals our connection to others. It can lock us alone inside our head. Simple acts of consideration can help to pull you back out into the wide world.
Emily points to some pretty basic social skills. Take simple eye contact. When you make eye contact and truly listen to the person who is talking to you it says "I see you. I really see you." It shows them that you think they are important. Don’t we all want to feel like we matter? Opening doors for others has less to do with gender than consideration for our fellow man. That thank you note for the nice blender from Aunt Lucille might be the one positive thing in her otherwise downer day.
Manners boil down to ways to acknowledge the value of the people around you. They bolster our social connections and as mammals (yes, you’re a mammal) we need others to get and stay healthy.
So, get those elbows off the table, strike up a conversation with someone, support a friend going through a tough transition.
You won’t just be polite, with Emily you’ll be one step closer to well-being.