If there is a bench, chair or table in my path, I will – despite not being distracted or in a rush – inevitably bump into it. (On any given day, I have three bruises in various stages of ripeness.)
I am the same socially. I may think I’m being clever or funny, but I’ve seen too many dismayed and shocked expressions to know I’ve run straight into another awkward corner.
So, by no means is this post gleaned from some inner wisdom that I am sharing generously with the world. (I wish.) Instead, being a good student of human behaviour, I see how other people navigate gracedom. And it is unfailingly cool and downright gratifying to be in its presence.
Now, I know the word ‘graceful’ sounds, well, old-fashioned – a bit musty even. Like something we don’t (or can’t) bother with much these days. And while I am all for technology and our speeded-up age of information, I find the idea of conducting life with grace eternally relevant.
First, I do not mean to use the word ‘grace’ interchangeably with:
- Elegance. This implies a refined style. While it may be difficult to be wholly graceful without looking neat and presentable, I am not connecting grace with any manner of high living.
- Etiquette. Following some protocol of correct behaviour for its own sake can be vacuous. Being graceful is more about putting other people at ease. (There is the story about how a dignitary visiting Queen Victoria, unfamiliar with the purpose of the finger bowl, raised it to his lips and drank from it. The Queen followed by doing the same.)
- Charm. I swoon over charm. But charm indicates action – it leans in – whereas grace is a little more about the state of being – it’s centred.
So, what is graceful?
Being fair, considerate and principled.
Graceful people are outstanding listeners for sure. The really talented ones even pause for a second or two after the other person finishes speaking, absorbing all that was shared, before responding.
A graceful person would never be considerate towards a dinner date while being contemptuous towards the waiter, or anyone who may not be able to answer back.
Grace doesn’t pick and choose. Being graceful is being consistent in one’s conduct, no matter who’s around. There’s no superiority about grace, only equality.
‘Kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.’ – Mark Twain
Giving space to let others be.
There is something dignified about grace. It hovers slightly above, rather than grovelling down below where it’s myopic or petty. It doesn’t crowd. It doesn’t grab. It doesn’t lecture. (The expression ‘never complain, never explain’ might well be grace’s mantra.)
Graceful people seem positively serene; they do not try to control everything. They make us feel at ease by accepting us for who we are.
‘I like you very much. Just as you are.’ – Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary
Not taking oneself too seriously.
Just in case I’m making this whole graceful thing sound like something impossibly ethereal (or, indeed, stuffy), a sense of humour is what thaws grace and makes it sparkle.
Simply the ability of someone to poke fun at herself (without, of course, being demeaning or self-critical – that’s a whole other thing) indicates a level of grace. The more unexpected, the more pleasing it is.
‘I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: “No good in a bed, but fine against a wall.”’ – Eleanor Roosevelt
Or, like Dolly Parton (isn’t she the best?) who is the first to wink at her own caricaturish image, as she demonstrates often with many gems, including this one about the 1960s women’s liberation movement:
‘I was the first woman to burn my bra – it took the fire department four days to put it out.’
But why even consider being graceful at all?
While grace may elude me, I love celebrating anything that’s rewarding just for being itself.
Grace is not calculated to seduce, impress or persuade. It exists simply as a benevolent force, asking for nothing in return.
Grace doesn’t make a room gasp when it enters; instead, it spreads a warm glow to all in its presence. There is a unifying quality about it as people are drawn to its quiet powers.
In a world that often pays the most attention to money, prestige, fame and title, the currency of grace is that it costs nothing, yet it enhances everything.