We went to dinner recently with my parents at a restaurant where you place an order at the counter and then get your own drink. Tom and I were pulling extra chairs up to a table for the seven of us when we noticed a man put a cup of water down in front of my mother. He asked if she’d like a lemon and she said “Yes, please,” so he went back to the drink station and fetched a lemon wedge for her.
He didn’t work at the restaurant, and I didn’t recognize him. I assumed maybe he was a friend my mother knew from work or one of the many people she has met during her job as a bank teller.
“Was that one of your bank customers?” I asked after the man walked back to his own table.
“No, I don’t know him,” Mom said. “He was getting himself a drink, and the water dispenser was empty after he filled his cup. He saw that I was waiting to get some water, too, and I guess he felt bad for taking the last of it. So he asked someone behind the counter to refill the water dispenser and said I could go sit down and he would bring some water to me.”
The first thing that went through my mind was “Wow. Someone raised that guy right.” He could have taken the last glass of water and walked away, mentally filing it away in the “not my problem” category. It’s probably what most people would have done. But he was different because he was raised right.
In today’s increasingly unkind world, seeing consideration and respect in action is almost stunning. It’s moving, and no matter what anyone says, it matters.
So I’ve decided to compile an ongoing list called “Ways to know someone has been raised right.” (You’re welcome to help by emailing me and adding your own ideas to the “Raised Right Registry.”) I’ll kick things off with a few things that deserve a place on the list, (alongside people who not only deliver water to a stranger but also go back for the lemon wedge).
You say thank you and mean it – to friends, family members, co-workers, and to every single person you encounter in the service industry, including wait staff, receptionists, the person handing you a soda at the drive-through window, the person who tells you the dry cleaning will be done on Tuesday, and every other person who helps you – regardless of whether or not it’s “part of their job.” Part of our job as decent human beings is to say thank you and mean it.
You hold the door for people. This gesture has been around for a long time, but it seems like fewer people do it now because so many of us are looking down at our phones. We simply don’t notice there’s someone coming toward us or someone following close behind for whom we could hold a door. It’s a simple, silent way to say “I see you, and you count.”
You say excuse me. People who are raised right know personal space is important. And when you accidentally invade someone’s space by bumping into them, you’re supposed to say “Excuse me” – and not in the sarcastic, accusatory way some people do it.
I once watched a woman on an airplane who stood up and accidentally bumped her head on an overhead bin door that had been left open. There was no one else in her row, but she instinctively spun around and said “Oh, excuse me!” to the overhead bin before realizing she had bumped a thing and not a person.
When a person’s instinct is to immediately ask pardon for even the slightest of slights – instead of being defensive or lashing out – you know they’ve been raised right.
Here’s hoping we all notice the people around us who have been raised right, and here’s hoping we are some of those people to others.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.