Etiquette Means Kindness – Hudson Valley One

My son-in-law, Daniel Stone, is a tech genius. I often need his help with simple tasks.

It’s like asking a brain surgeon to remove a splinter.

I had no patience for his precise, quiet approach when he asked me to choose a voice for Siri.

For me, each voice was “very good”. Now I’m stuck with a white male voice with a southern accent, an encore, but of what?

My other son-in-law, also a genius, Adonis Pimienta, has a doctorate in aerospace engineering. He provided me with this fact: a 100-year lifespan for a human on planet Earth is equivalent to about 40 minutes in cosmic time. By that calculation, I have eight minutes left.

I am an earthling on 7,967,017,800. This number changes every millisecond. At night, my opinions, my irritations, seemingly my whole life becomes an even smaller part of the whole.

Me, and I’m not alone in this case, I spend my 40 microscopic minutes believing that I have influence. So this column.

During the time I wrote the previous 180 words, I needed Siri’s help six times for spelling and synonyms. Every time I hear the voice, even knowing it’s fake, I’m reminded that people different from me can be nice and helpful.

Sound and I, regardless of our political differences, can agree that the world has gone haywire. Especially in our little part of the planet called USA.

I’ll call the voice Bradley.

Bradley and I made a pact. We won’t be spending time in the fall discussing the election, global warming, the police, or the economy. I have to accept, even with so much evidence supporting that I’m right, I haven’t changed my mind, I just let out emotional energy spitting words into the atmosphere and angering some friends and relatives.

Why should Bradley and I alienate each other? He cannot fix the world. Neither do I.

Unless a Charlton Heston look-alike descends from Mohonk turning his staff into serpents, displaying the Almighty’s miraculous power to right all wrongs, fighting just creates pervasive dissonance.

What can I or what can I do with our few moments of cosmic time to bring back love, unity, forgiveness, empathy and civility from the abyss?

Good manners. This is the answer. Etiquette equals kindness. Put your towel on your lap to catch the food so the host has less to clean up. On the River to Ridge Trail in New Paltz, scoop up your dog’s poo so you don’t spoil what could be a stranger’s best part of a day. Chewing a stir-fry with your mouth closed is a service to humanity. It is, and easily achievable.

It is very important to say “please” and “thank you”. It’s deep. Gratitude has been identified by happiness researchers as a main component of a joyful life. Don’t cut the line! As much to tell the person who stands behind you that he is less human, less important than you. Keep the door open for the next person. If they slip away without saying “thank you”, avoid raising your voice and saying, annoyed, “you’re welcome”. Return the book you borrowed. Wait for the waiter to come to your table. Don’t interrupt. Let the other speak as much as you do. Answer the phone occasionally. Return emails and messages.

We cannot wave a magic stick and fix roads and bridges. People like you and me can do something about the breakdown of interpersonal infrastructure caused by internet anonymity, Covid, fear, lack of attention.

Do you feel preached? I have one word to describe myself, “guilty”. But even impatient, I can do better.

Above all, don’t ghost anyone.

Before the term meant to blow someone away by not bothering to respond, it meant “an apparition of a dead person”. The two definitions are linked.

If you are a child playing ball, you throw the ball and the other person does not purposely try to catch it, but lets it land on the ground.

You will feel invisible, ignored, out of the game, like you are a ghost.

I just used part of my eight minutes of cosmic time to write a letter to my beloved, city, country, planet. Is this a futile exercise? Who knows?

If it keeps a person from walking the dog’s doo-doo, this smallest of accomplishments is as insignificant as I am in the grand cosmological order of everything. Where is it?

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