Opportunity Knocks Just Once

But importunity keeps trying to claw its way past the security screens…

I have sometimes been very remiss in my social relations. I’ve failed to address requests and demands in a proper way – never more so than when I’ve not given people the correct response to importunate demand.

In my defence, these sorts of things don’t happen very often, and I’m generally not prepared for that first assault. The beggar in the car park of the local shopping centre, the telephone solicitor, the strange caller at the doorstep…they all take me unawares and I am on the back foot for some time. I may acquiesce out of surprise. But the same should not happen if it is a repeated thing – I should be able to knock it on the head by the second contact. But so often I’ve just let it go on.

Oh, I’ve tried all sorts of ways to slide past the beggars – cultural dodges like the Japanese ” That, urrr, may be difficult…” or the British ” Oh, My Dear Fellow, how tiresome…” or the Canadian ” Well, I’ll be darned, eh? ” All of these are intended to be genteel signals that wave off the approach but they only work if the pest knows the culture. And even then they may not work if money is involved. I’ve been at wit’s end to know how to deal with some plaintiffs.

But recently I read a biography of a film star and discovered the perfect social response.

The bio was of Paul Newman – sometime rear gunner on a Navy Avenger aircraft and spaghetti sauce salesman. And Cool Hand Luke. He was importuned by Hollywood paparazzi to provide poses and pics out on the street and he evolved a standard response: ” I don’t do that.”

Brilliant. It does not say that he refuses the particular applicant and it makes no judgement about the request. It is self-centred in the best way. And it sounds official enough and final enough to stop further nagging.

I shall apply it when I am solicited to give money for someone else’s charity, to supply free files from my studio records, or to provide free shoots and graphic designs for no reward. Hopefully I can do it in the urbane and measured way that Newman adopted, and hopefully it will not lead to unpleasantness.

At least it will mean the in the future we don’t have ” a failure to communicate “.




Moving On With Life

Recently I met someone who told me that they were moving on with their life. They’d gotten to a point where the older associations and interests no longer satisfied them. They were going to seek new things.

I recognised the feeling – it has happened to me on a number of occasions in the past and I suspect it will happen again in the future. I am not sure if this means life for me will be better or worse, but in any case it will be different.

Breaking ties to the past can be problematical – it’s not just the mafia that is hard to leave – many innocent social groups are just the same. We need to observe some niceties when we do:

a. Do your changing for yourself – not for someone else. By this I mean do not leave friends or family because someone else tells you to. Whether your departure is a good idea or a bad idea, it must come from you alone.

b. Do not leave mad. Even if you are angry, repress this so that no-one is subject to it. You can discharge it elsewhere another time. If there is to be any leave-taking do it upon friendly grounds if at all possible. At least try for civility.

c. Do not announce your leave-taking generally. There may be some people to whom it is politic to make your congé, but these are generally very few these days. There is no nobility any more, and the people you need to deal with are officials or employers. There are accepted forms of severance and you would do well to observe them.

d. Do not expect mourning or great consternation. That might be evidenced if you were to die tragically but then you’d never see it. If you angle for it to gratify your ego while you are still here, you’ll be horrified to find it does not exist. The world turns without you very well.

e. Make no explanations, provide no justification. If there are reasons, they can remain within you and make you a stronger, better person in the future. You really only need to account to courts and the ATO, and if they are not involved, the rest is a private matter.

f. Leave no debts. If anything is demanded of you, consider whether it is justified. Whatever you honourably owe, pay. If you do not owe anything, smile and decline.

g. Do not return. If you think yourself improved by leaving a social circle, consider that you may also have improved that circle by your decision. Don’t go back and spoil the thing.

h. Go out and begin afresh in the social scene. You have learned a great deal about other people and, hopefully, something about yourself. Make use of the knowledge.

i. If you meet old companions, partners, acquaintances, group members in the future…and you will… be gracious. They’ll think better of you, and so will you.


The Social Media Introduction Is Not An Introduction Into Society


You may care to have a copy of Emily Post ready to hand as you read this. Or any other competent volume of etiquette written in the 19th or 20th century. Please note that I speak of civilian and secular practice – military or religious expectations are different.

I believe you will find that the ritual and art of introductions forms an important part of the works. Rules will be laid down for the timing, precedence, and form of social introduction. They can be quite complex, but generally devolve into three things:

a. A recognition of the responsibility of the person effecting the introduction.

b. Proper recognition of the seniority, and place of the parties.

c. Sensible appreciation of the circumstances.

Let me deal with these in turn, but in reverse order, and with reference to the social media phenomenon that is Facebook.

Appreciation of where you are and what you are doing in a social sense is vital. You do not start glad-handing people in a funeral procession nor do you stand aloof and cold at a frat house kegger party. Your manners vary at a public dinner from those at a private one. Cocktail parties have their own ambiance and requirements. You adjust your degree of intimacy with each.

Facebook is on your own computer – look upon it as a cocktail party in your home. Bright, witty, ephemeral. A two-drink and gone affair. It may stir you but it need not shake you.

By the same token, it should never be an occasion that requires you to suffer insult or to come into contact with knavery. You neither need to be strained nor stained.

Now to the question of a proper order of introduction. Dive into Emily Post and you may be bewildered by the levels of precedence and rank. I should be terrified of trying to meld together members of the Russian Court with the higher prelates of the Anglican Church – I think I would just give them both a sherry and run for it. But really, it just works out to a case of introducing people who you value to people who you value more. Done with good will, even a small social gaffe is harmless.

Facebook is altogether different. Here an introduction is not done by saying  ” Mother, I would like to introduce Dr. Frederick Jones ” and so on – in the case of people who ” share ” the writings of others to their Facebook friends it is more a case of someone standing on a soap box with a megaphone. At a cocktail party…

And finally the most important consideration. A social introduction of one person to another is a hefty responsibility. While you cannot guarantee the one being introduced, the very fact that you are effecting it means that you are warranting them – you are warranting that they are not knaves and that you KNOW it. You cannot say that they are not fools – folly forms such a large part of everyone that this must be hazarded always.

Your honour is involved in your introduction. Every time you do it you do so at your peril. Do it carefully.

Facebook has opened the way for this caution to be thrown to the winds – particularly during political campaigns. People introduce others to speak for them by ” sharing ” their writings but do so largely with no personal contact with the writer. They cannot warrant their behaviour, and thus invalidate the introduction and possibly defile their own honour in so doing. Imagine…

You ” share ” the post of a stranger, the stranger turns out to be a scoundrel. You have attached yourself to them in the most public way possible. Even if the scoundrel said what you wanted to say, and what they said was witty, and powerful, and even correct. The fact that they are a scoundrel and you introduced them still sticks to you…

I participate cheerfully in the cocktail party that is Facebook. I dodge into conversations, pop wise, then skitter away. I should be, and occasionally am, scolded for this – but the intrusions are nearly always good humoured. I am pleased to say that of my 185 contacts on Facebook, I have spoken face-to-face with 184 of them and CAN introduce many of them as people free of guile.

I value their reputations, and have decided upon a plan to avoid the danger of associating them in the future with the vile or disreputable. I am going to make sure that I do not place them in an invidious position by accepting introductions that eventually prove noxious. I am simply going to use the little mechanism on the upper right hand side of the Facebook timeline feed that allows me to turn away in time.

Should I find one of my friends making their way through the crowd at the virtual cocktail party with some political commentator in tow – they announce themselves by that dreads word ” share ” or ” liked ” – I shall press the button and block them. It will be a kindly act – they will be saved from possible social disgrace.

I hasten to add that I will never block a person’s own writing. Their own thoughts in their own words…even if those words are mis-spelled or punctuated badly…are worth reading. I give my friends the right of freedom of speech to me, as long as it is they who are speaking.

Note on social introductions: If ever you are with me and I do not introduce you to someone, the reason I do not do so is that I do not feel I can enter into the social warranty. You are free to wonder about the behaviour and character of the other person, if you wish…