The attributes of a great lady may still be found in the rule of the four S’s: Sincerity, Simplicity, Sympathy and Serenity. — Emily Post
When I was a young girl I received a small book about charm and etiquette for my birthday. It was written for young girls about my age, approximately 12, and provided easy to understand and follow lessons in grace, elegance, and charm (an old fashioned word that means charisma, magnetism and appeal). Emily Post, an American author famous for her writings on etiquette, once wrote, “the greatest asset that a man or woman or child can have is charm.” True charm, she advised, is attained not only from following a particular set of rules, but also “made smooth and polished by the continuous practice of kindness.”
As a young girl just starting to understand and embrace my femininity, I loved this broad look at life skills—learning how to walk with poise and confidence, how to react to rude behavior with grace and how to properly hold a knife and fork. There was also much emphasis on good manners, a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. As Ms. Post once said, “if you have such awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” Etiquette, good manners and ladylike behavior are all to be practiced under the cloak of kindness. I soaked it up and to this day, I still remember and try to practice much of what I learned at such an impressionable age.
It’s easy to think that etiquette is something only “for the birds” or to be of importance only to brides, diplomats or royalty but there isn’t a single thing we do, or say, or choose, or use, or even think everyday, that does not follow (or break) one of the exactions of taste, tact, ethics, good manners, or etiquette.
It has been many years since I received my first book on etiquette. As style, manners and etiquette are some things that evolve over time, through the years I’ve grown a small collection of books that provide rules and brim with advice on many social and business etiquette issues. I have also since realized that being a lady means different things to different people. To me, it means celebrating your femininity, treating people with respect and kindness, being diplomatic and keeping your cool and acting with decorum at all times—or in other words, being polite, having good manners and always making others feel comfortable, even while confidently navigating the trickiest of social dilemmas.
Confidence and self-belief are two of the greatest gifts you can give someone. Part of that confidence comes from knowing the rules. As a mother, I want to bestow such confidence on my son by teaching him basic rules of etiquette that he can later decide whether or not to keep. I’d like for him to be a true gentleman, having the old fashioned chivalry combined with a modern respect for women. More importantly, I want him to have charm, the kind that has been “made smooth and polished by the continuous practice of kindness.”
A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe