Monday, November 12, 2018

The Arts Build Civil Communities

Saint Andrews is an artists’ haven, swelling into a vibrant community every summer. This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to interview July’s selection of artists’ in residence at the world class Kingsbrae International Residency for the Arts.  The enthusiasm for the friendliness of the town was a common theme throughout all of our conversations. Each artist qualified to participate in this month-long residency through a rigorous application process. There are fifteen such residencies awarded throughout the months of June, July, and August. 

I spoke with a fabric artist from Stratford, Ontario. Who doesn’t love Stratford, right? And there was an immediate sense of belonging she felt here, which will allow her to focus on her textile project. Then I spoke with a woman from Oregon who works as an art instructor with prisoners and is an accomplished painter, this month working on a series of paintings on cardboard. I was delighted to meet a fellow writer from Fredericton who is working on a series of short stories. We share a common interest in children living in abject poverty. I look forward to reading his work. A Chinese artist from New York is working with watercolors, acrylics, and egg tempera, a very unusual medium. It turned out we had studied or known many of the same tempera artists from the same region where I lived for many years. And finally, the printmaker from England was in heaven. Her project is printing the leaves of the garden in a variety of designs. Although these artists are only temporarily in residence, hopefully they will return, as so many do, to this amazing arts community.

At Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre, the summer program is in full sail as it continues to attract an impressive roster of instructors in many mediums. Hundreds of students of all ages and abilities spend various amounts of time immersed in the course of their choosing. With one Canada’s greatest print studios on site, the quality and quantity of a wide array of techniques of printmaking, each one lovingly produced by hand, one image at a time. Studios for making jewelry, stained glass, paintings, pottery and sculpture add to the depth of the artistic community. The centre has successfully become a true community arts and nature center – the oldest in Canada – and hosts art exhibitions and intimate musical shows throughout the year.

Many artist’s studios are dotted throughout the town, and in fact the entire Passamaquoddy Bay region. The Tides Institute in Eastport, Maine has been researching the many forms of cultural expression that have flourished over the past several hundred years and beyond into pre-recorded history. Often passed down from generation to generation through the art of storytelling, the rich fabric of the artistic culture of the area has managed to sustain itself. Because of the agreeable climate and wonderful fresh air, summer artist colonies have abounded for a hundred years or more. 

The Saint Andrews Arts Council hosts numerous workshops and masterclasses in the performing arts. Their season always ends on a high note with their Gala Concert. People travel from all over the world to enrich their lives by the abundance of art programs offered by the Arts Council in this little community. And, the community is richer for it. 

The arts provide a pathway for many people to express their feelings and to feel good about themselves. This ability to express one’s feelings is what will make or break a community. Fortunately, the various arts organizations champion one another in the broader supportive sense with a clear belief that there is more than enough for everyone, and sharing is a good thing. As you can see from the above smorgasbord, the arts are flourishing and there is no indication that they will slow down. In today’s world, where many of us struggle to survive mired in a culture of fear, a healthy distraction is a welcome reprieve. What better place to find it than deep within ourselves. Our abilities to express ourselves lies inside of each of us.

The friendships and deep bonds of trust, which are so essential for a healthy and safe community, can be kindled at cultural centers, especially those where the arts are taught, appreciated, studied, exhibited, and shared in myriad ways. Civilized communities thrive when everyone feels safe expressing how they feel. Artistic expression comes in infinite forms that stimulate one or more of the senses. This expression is a form of communication. We need to return to a time when civil discourse was preferred. Today, arguments turn violent and civility is tossed out the window. Perhaps the arts can retake their rightful place at the table and restore civility where it belongs – front and center.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

How Relevant is Etiquette Today?

At a recent seminar I was presenting, the question arose during the lunch break asking about the relevancy of etiquette today. I have learned to recognize that all questions are good, and this one was no exception. Within a day or two of this question being asked of me, out of the blue an etiquette expert asked if I had been teaching etiquette for long. Taking those two seemingly unrelated questions and pondering them together, I concluded that given that I catered my first dinner party at the age of 16, and have been hosting parties ever since, I should certainly be able to explain the relevancy of etiquette today.

The question about relevancy was posed by a young creative guy who genuinely had never likely considered the importance of a good handshake when making a first impression. Planning an agenda prior to attending a business mixer would likely have never crossed his mind – why would it have? What I have come to realize is how necessary, yet flexible rules or guidelines of etiquette need to be. There are many customs from yesteryear that have gone the way of the Dodo bird. Relevancy of these customs was called into question then as it always will be by people such as the young creative guy for whom there seemed to be few concentric circles.

There is no doubt that many of the actual rules of etiquette are irrelevant, but the fundamental purpose of etiquette will always be essential. The purpose for etiquette has not changed over hundreds of years. Although technically, the term ‘etiquette’ was coined during the court of Louis XIV, the purpose dated back into the age of chivalry. Visitors in those days more than likely would have been intruders; therefore, there needed to be a way to show if you were coming in peace so as to avoid being attacked. The customary sign was the removal of one’s helmet, thereby displaying vulnerability. Similarly, swords were carried on the left and hands are to this day shaken with right hands – the hand used for wielding a sword.

Taking this concept a step further, we have evolved as a society and find that respecting one another is the best way to form safe communities where cooperation translates into survival. As these communities grew, their sustainability hinged on an agreed set of rules of conduct shared by everyone ensuring that people communicated their thoughts and feelings without unknowingly insulting them. 

So, when asked about the relevance of etiquette today, remembering that this code of conduct that has changed with the ages, and continues to do so, I say this is the footprint we use to avoid insulting one another and of showing respect. These actions allow us to feel safe and to be creative and to live the fulfilling lives, which is our birthright.

Etiquette is not simply about how to move gracefully through high society as it once was. To begin with, what’s left of many of those traditions is diminishing quickly. The need to be polite, however, has not. To quote Emily Post, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

Image result for emily post quote it doesn't matter which fork you use

What Mrs. Post was referring to is emotional intelligence. A large part of etiquette is about being aware of how we ourselves feel about ourselves and others. This is how we can form safe communities, based on our abilities to communicate civilly with one another. Somehow during the past century this emotional intelligence all but vanished. But, it is making a comeback. More and more people understand the value of emotional intelligence in re-shaping our world. 

We must remind ourselves that we are merely stewards of this wonderful planet. At the moment, we can’t justify giving ourselves high marks for our stewardship. We have decimated too much of the environment and the natural world; we have treated one another worse than any other species that ever walked the face of the Earth; we continue to marginalize people are aren’t like us; and we are either in or on the brink of a revolution or a civil war in more than one part of the world.

I hope all of you will take stewardship seriously. Step out from the shadows and make a positive change in yourself, your family, your place of work, your community, your place of worship and in your schools. Positive change requires far greater involvement by everyone of us. Wouldn’t you agree that there is a serious need for positive change? Becoming emotionally intelligent will help us be the best us we can be. Becoming emotionally intelligent will intuitively give us the good manners we need to succeed, no matter which fork we use. Is this relevant? You decide.

Jay Remer is Canada’s Etiquette Guy ( Your questions will be promptly answered at no charge.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Supporting Mental Health Care Strengthens Civility

I was shocked, saddened, and angered when I read last week’s Telegraph Journal article about four school counsellors quitting their jobs because of overwork and disrespect. Because I believe the buck stops at the top, I cannot help but place responsibility for this debacle squarely in lap of the department of education. This department has been plagued by underfunding and, as a result, a stifled ability to deliver a good education for a good long time. This latest revelation could indicate a tipping point is fast approaching. Excellent mental health and the care required to maintain it should be considered a valuable asset to our society. Because of the stigmas, fears, misunderstandings, and lack of it being a high enough priority, mental health issues continue to take a back seat. The time has come for us to speak more openly about these issues, which plague a full 25% of the population. There is much to gain both ethically and economically if we all took the time to learn about this epidemic problem to which none of us are oblivious or unaffected, despite our thundering inaction. What can we do as community partners; and what must we expect the department of education to do? Where does the responsibility rest when it comes to what amounts to a cultural revolution? And if we can fully understand the impact of such resignations, how will this allow us to develop into a more civil society? Because these are not political issues, they should not be treated as political footballs. Any responsible government should recognize the importance and benefits of a greatly increased accessibility to mental health practitioners. In schools and most workplaces, good, highly accessible counselling should be available. In high stress jobs, such as the armed forces, health care and education (to name the top three), such services should be mandatory. To accomplish this, we would need many more therapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists. We need to put together a funding model that shows the long-term health and economic benefits of treating mental health issues in the early stages, rather than waiting until they become a crisis. We would also need to collectively decide that improving the mental health of our communities is a good idea. This buy-in would likely lead to the substantially increased funding required to make this happen. I would hope that by teaching the realities of mental health in our schools, in our churches, in our social groups, and beyond that these truths could begin to melt away the stigma and shame still clinging to these far-reaching issues. Access to mental health care must be viewed as a benefit both to the organization providing it and to the person receiving it. I know of no one who would not benefit from feeling safer, more accepted and valued for who they are. Becoming more in tune with our close communities, the ones we really live in, will give us more awareness of who may need some extra encouragement, assistance, understanding, or connection. We can provide an open ear and a wonderful opportunity to connect, especially when close friends and family ask us. Because people tend to ask for this kind of support subtly, greater awareness makes it much easier to notice more quickly when things aren’t quite right. The incremental strides we are making through different government programs are important and should not be discounted. However, they are woefully inadequate, as the results have shown. Poverty, a sound education, and accessible health care – mental or otherwise, are all areas that undermine progress. We undoubtedly need to put more energy into those areas by making them our top priorities. As members of our communities, it is up to us to speak up and let our elected officials know what our priorities are. Although they may not be able to fund everything, they should be strongly encouraged to provide venues where these important matters can be discussed and where good clear information can be presented by qualified experts. We must get our heads around the idea that healthier communities are a good thing, and that it is up to us as individuals to carry the torch. There are a lot of great people in our province who are not elected officials, and who would be able to help in significant ways. So many matters that have become political in nature do not belong in any political arena because they affect everyone regardless of party affiliation. And, everyone, regardless of political beliefs, needs to pitch in and work towards a common goal for the good of the communities in which we live. A more compassionate society provides greater opportunity for personal fulfillment. Being kinder and more respectful of one another, more accepting, and more inclusive are all examples of humility. A humbler society gives all of us an equal opportunity to follow our path, as we choose, enjoying the benefits and paying the consequences of our actions along the way. What is your opinion? Jay Remer is Canada’s Etiquette Guy. Feel free to contact him on social media. He lives in Saint Andrews.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Forms of address - more informal, more familiar - not appropriate

After the blog entry I wrote about how to properly address elected officials, I received a number of requests on how to deal with less formal, more commonplace situations where addressing all sorts of people has become extremely relaxed over the years to the point of being disrespectful over the years. I maintain that this is a direct result of generational compensations made by parents as a reaction to their own upbringing. Whatever the reason, the end result diminishes the respect shown to one another in subtle ways which reflect an attitude of laziness, inappropriate familiarity and just plain rudeness.

One reader asks, "Have you addressed the issue of store clerks, bank tellers, and various other folks with whom one has casual business contact calling you by your first name without being invited to do so?" This is a curious dynamic whereby people think that by being more familiar with another person they somehow can become their friend and thereby make the sale or be less threatening. What happens in many cases with this inappropriate familiarity is that the customer is completely put off. Another disrespectful form of address and one of my pet peeves is being called 'babe' or 'hun' by some stranger i.e. shop clerk, taxi driver, bank clerk, etc.

Another reader states, "I have a pet peeve about how the ordinary citizen is addressed, say, in a doctor's office. I am always 'Mary', which I sometimes don't hear because I have a double first name which is Mary Jane. Granted my name is not easy but I could be referred to as Ms. Jones which never happens even if the speaker is 20! Is this lack of effort to call someone by their rightful name because there is overall very little respect for anyone anymore?"

My explanation for this all too common phenomenon is that people simply don't realize that something as simple as how we refer to one another is the very essence of showing respect. We are consumed with the I and me and look for the lazy, easy and I don't care way of conducting ourselves. Without much needed guidance and a modest amount of education people will continue to ignore any of the decency we might show one another.  There is also a carelessness about not listening to or paying attention to a person's name is. It's as though that individual just doesn't matter.

My advice to anyone who thinks this detail really goes unnoticed and doesn't matter is that they are absolutely wrong. There is nothing more personal than one's name. Getting it wrong sends shock waves through most people. This is why it is so important to take the time and make the effort to focus on a person's correct name and title. And if you don't know the person, it is a good idea to call them by their last name (sir name) preceded by Mr., Miss, Mrs. or the unfortunate Ms. form. Only when someone gives you permission to call them by their first name is it okay to do so. If you are introduced by a third party using first names then it is alright to use a first name.

In a professional setting, there is nothing wrong with using formalities. In fact, it is down right rude not to in most cases. Even when going to see your doctor, refer to him or her as 'doctor'. You are seeing them as professionals and they should be addressed accordingly. Similarly, receptionists should not call you by your first name. Familiarity of this sort screams disrespect.

One easy way to teach people how to address one another appropriately is to begin this process at home. We have friends and relatives, each of whom are deserving of being acknowledged by name. In my case, it was Uncle Jim or Aunt Sue or Cousin Bill. I was taught to address friends' parents and other adults as Mr. Jones or Mrs. Smith. There is no reason why children today cannot be taught to address their peers and adults with whom they come into contact, to call them by an appropriate name. "Um, hi" is not an option. And there is always the use of sir or ma'am with which many people have been raised. These are respectful terms and avoid your being crude or ignorant when addressing someone.

We like it when we are called by our name. In fact, we are annoyed when people get our names wrong. Using one another's name is a sign of respect. It shows that you matter and that I have taken the time and effort to remember your name. Addressing someone by their proper name lets that person know that they stand out in your thoughts. Though memory does not always serve us well and we can forget names from time to time, simply admit that you have forgotten a name, apologize and ask for the name again. Since this happens to all of us, it should not be considered bad form. Remember the cardinal rule of recognizing the intent behind what we say. We don't purposely forget names and should not be chastised for it.

Being lazy about how we address one another is a different matter completely. Laziness is oddly enough an act. It is done with purpose albeit minimal. I recommend paying close attention to how we address each other. As it matters to you how you are introduced and spoken to, it matters to everyone else too. We all deserve the same level of respect. This simple act goes a long way in making the communities in which we live more civilized.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Election of Scott Brown

The attention brought to the U.S. Senate race to fill the late Senator Kennedy's seat has been nothing short of astounding. One of the reasons for elections is to make choices. This is a principle of any free society. Why people are so amazed that a Republican could win shows real disrespect for that party and all of the candidates. I am not saying that they have not done their part in earning a certain level of criticism. What is interesting is that so much power has been heaped on the outcome of this race. The entire health care reform movement is at stake. This is of course ridiculous. I seriously doubt that a little known politician can have that kind of impact. His vote on the matter is after all no more important than anyone else's. If the bill before Congress is so fragile that Senator Brown's election, and subsequent leveling of the playing field, has this effect, then the bill is seriously flawed to begin with. Politics at its worst is being played out before our very eyes with a critically important piece of legislation. We as a constituency are pawns in a squabble that has its roots spread through many fields other than health care reform. Congress is making a gross mistake with this injustice. If they can't see how disrespectful they are being of the American people, my guess is that quite a few of them will be seeking employment elsewhere come election day. The American public deserves more respect from their elected officials and everyone knows it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What will we learn from Haiti

Perhaps the greatest natural disaster in my lifetime has occurred in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Most of us have never seen anything like this. The news media is bringing this devastation to life unlike any other event they have ever covered. Compassion has never been more needed than it is right now. The world must and will, I believe, respond. How they respond will be carefully noted. This horrific situation brings humanity to its knees. We suddenly are thrown into the rawest form of the need to show the utmost respect for our fellow man. We know few or none of these persons individually. That does not deter us from coming to their aid. The logistical problems are immediately insurmountable, but step by step this tragedy will heal. This is a fine opportunity to come together for the good of others because it is the right thing to do. It will make us feel better to do something, anything we can. In so doing, respect, grace and compassion will be our surest guide.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Real Health Care Reform

Perhaps one of the most time consuming and important issues Congress addressed in 2009 and will continue to consider long into the future is that of Health Insurance Reform, cloaked in the more soothing heading of health care reform. I personally do not put my health care decisions in the hands of any government or individual health care practitioner, especially any medical professional. I sincerely hope that we take a lot of our own personal time in the coming days, months and years to give our bodies and our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health maintenance the respect and attention only we can give it ourselves. I am suggesting taking back some of the power we so willingly turned over to forces outside of ourselves, specifically the medical profession and insurance and drug industries. Relying on the knowledge for which people have been trained is critical. Discerning which people now what knowledge is paramount to the success of our maintenance program.

Our health and well being has improved immeasurably in no small part as a result of huge strides in the study of medicine. Antibiotics, anaethesia, vaccinations and a host of other incredible discoveries has afforded mankind a greatly improved survival rate. Remember there are a lot of people who have no access to medical care. There are also millions who choose non medical therapeutic modalities such as homeopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, acupuncture, herbal remedies and a whole host of others which provide great relief to the suffering and ailing. Consider the reasons why these healing arts have survived over the millennia.

There is a fundamental difference between healing and suppressive treatment. There is a difference between acute and chronic conditions. There is also a lack of awareness in ourselves about how these concepts relate to ourselves. I am suggesting that we need to raise that level of awareness. This will increase our level of respect for ourselves which will make it possible for us to increase our respect for those around us.

Become the quarterback for your own health care team. No one cares more about you or knows more about you than you yourself.