Today’s story comes from our advisor Jack Fallow.
Often, we do not know we are being taught. Great teachers often tell stories which have levels of meaning or relevance emerging over time. This week, as my wife and I enter a period of isolation, I remember someone whom I will call ‘Frank’.
We were collaborating on developing leadership decision making; the focus was handling crises and disasters. Frank was/is a world ranking expert, used by energy companies and government services. Theoretically a colleague, quickly I became a willing pupil.
Initially, his style irritated me: he was high-church and posh, a typical product of the english private school system (interestingly, they are called Public Schools). My background is very different and my structural antipathies were raised. To my surprise, he had chosen me to help in the programme. Soon, I realised that, as usual, the relationship problem was mine. As my admiration grew I became curious about his career. The big lesson came when he described being the commander of a submarine.
I asked ‘How do you stay civil when you are locked under the sea for nine months with the same people?’ He simply said ‘Please and Thank You’. Then he spoke of the way courtesy sometimes gets ignored in close relationships. Of how easy it is to become over familiar and forget that each person is an individual, not just an extension of your needs. No matter how well you believe you know them, they have dreams and fears that you may not understand.
He reminded me that the meaning of Courtesy is how you behave around the royal COURT. The courts were filled with a narrow group of citizens who had to live together constantly. They developed manners to maintain the social structure and ensure survival. It reminded me how William Wilberforce took a particular focus on helping develop good manners in society.
As we all become submariners in this current quarantine, let’s not be frank in our conversations. Rather be Frank. Our courtesy and good manners might be the key to the survival of our precious relationships.
‘Please and Thank You’, please.