I have little use for the idea of polite, though I have often pretended to care about good manners in order to avoid situations which make me feel uncomfortable. I have averted my eyes from the agonies and ecstasies of another’s existence for fear attendance to them would require more than I could easily give and called it being polite: It is not my place to pry. I do not want to embarrass them by bearing witness to something anyone in their right mind would want to hide. Seeing and being seen? So awkward.
I knew this once. As a child, I tended to value being authentic and showing concern more than social graces. This was a nightmare for my parents, I’m sure, as I remember many reprimands and punishments for stepping outside the bounds of etiquette in order to be unabashedly myself and engage wholeheartedly with the world around me. I think many of us can go back far enough in our memories to a time when we were not embarrassed to simply be human in all our gore and glory. Learning to be ashamed of some of what being human means happened at different times and in different ways for each of us, but for nearly all of us it did happen. And we have allowed the humiliation we feel about aspects of our own personhood to keep us disconnected. Because we are embarrassed to exist as-is, we turn our eyes from the as-is existence of others.
Brazen but kind.
That is what I want to be. Politeness is not the same as kindness. though they can look the same. One imprisons, the other frees. Politeness says there is one correct way to be and invites shame as we realize we cannot be all that society expects. Kindness delves into the light and shadow of humanity and holds with love whatever lives there.
I try to cultivate kindness even as I ignore many social constructs. To be in any sort of extended conversation with me is to learn I will ask insanely personal questions to seek out the heart of you. And, if you want to see it, I will show you my heart, too. I have been told I have no shame when it comes to being myself, when it comes to being with others. While that assessment is not yet wholly correct, being entirely without shame is the condition to which I aspire. It is the condition I hope to inspire in others. It is why I am bold in asking people to let me see them, as they are, without apology. It is why I try to authentically share myself.
The privilege of dancing with others in rapturous celebration of the magnificent and shared weeping in the anguished throes of the horrendous cannot be granted to a bystander. It is earned at the risk of being kindly impolite for the sake of being well and truly present among the humans with which we share this world.
In my experience, it is worth the risk.