Manners make us memorable, either as courteous, compassionate folks, or as people who practice acceptable social customs out of obligation and respect for traditions, or even as hypocrites who use politeness to disguise disdain. Here, in poetry, are some thoughts about manners:
by Susan L. Lipson
They agreed that it was fabulous to reconnect after so long,
that they needed to get together--DEFINITELY!
And that old sentiments renewed should be called "resentiment."
They laughed together, then exchanged phone numbers, emails, smiles, and hugs.
She texted her long-lost friend the next day, to say how thrilled she felt to be back in touch.
The text evoked a "ditto" and a smiley face in reply.
And that reply evoked an invitation to get together,
which remained unanswered for two days,
before being re-sent, along with the words, "You probably didn't get my text, so…".
A day later she re-sent the text again, and then re-sent a new one,
and finally, "resentiment" became RESENTMENT.
And "definitely" became a lie.
by Susan L. Lipson
You’re welcome—to take your place
once you’ve finished gushing,
“Thank you so much for your help--thank you!”
and she replies nonchalantly,
but never, “Thank YOU—
Thanks for asking me.”
No, that would mean
to bother her again,
and clearly you’re not.
To thank someone for effusive thanks
equates giving and receiving,
and negates power of one over another.
“You’re welcome,” blithely uttered,
implies a privilege granted,
a favor tallied,
and only rarely a follow-up offer
to “feel free to ask again, anytime.”
She called to ask whether we received her sympathy card,
and whether we knew that she had made a donation in memory
of our dearly departed.
She didn’t ask how we are coping with the loss.
She didn’t even mention my mom-in-law's name,
or any memory of times spent with her.
She was just wondering—“no pressure, of course!”—
since she’d never received a thank-you card.
“But that really doesn’t matter, of course,” she assured me,
“since I’m sure you’ve been so busy since….”
And then she assured me yet again: “You know, dear, that you have
my sincere sympathy, in any case—
card or no card.”
Whose card did she mean?
And why must I thank her for mere sympathy,
which is like a carefully wrapped package of nothing,
without the true gift of Empathy rattling within.
Sympathy is what you SHOW to others; Empathy is what you FEEL for them.
Sympathy is external; Empathy is internal.
Sympathy is a polite action; Empathy is a compassionate one.
Sympathy is expected in polite society; but Empathy is a welcome, cherished surprise.
Sympathy can be expressed by greeting cards; Empathy is only expressed in sincere words and/or hugs.
Sympathy is announced; empathy is understood.
Sympathy shows caring; Empathy creates sharing.
Sympathy is to shine another’s beaten-up shoes; Empathy is to wear those shoes.
Loss is cluttered by the sympathetic shoe-shiners,
But simplified by those who share our burdens,
Leaving us a smaller fraction of grief to bear alone.