Tag Archives: gentleman

How to Be Gracious, and Why

be-gracious-kills-you-thumb-500x290-29269A nicely-put piece by Tom Chiarella in Esquire. Is “gracious” the right word? Perhaps not, gracious is…polite. I’d perhaps go for interested or something. Doesn’t matter, the message works either way.

 

 

In business, the little things — a favor acknowledged , a favor returned, proper introductions, smiles, attentiveness — are really the big things

Graciousness looks easy, but of course it is not. Do not mistake mere manners for graciousness. Manners are rules. Helpful, yes. But graciousness reflects a state of being; it emanates from your inventory of self. Start with what you already possess. You, for instance, have a job. Live up to that.

When wandering the world, forget your business cards. Don’t look for more contacts. Instead, observe. Say hello to the people you see every day, but don’t make a fetish out of it. Stay interested in others. Be generous in your attentions but not showy. Don’t wink, snap your fingers, high-five, or shout, though laugh with those who do. It bears repeating: Look around. Remember names. Remember where people were born.

On the street, in the lobby, square your shoulders to people you meet. Make a handshake matter — eye contact, good grip, elbow erring toward a right angle. Do not pump the hand, unless the other person is insistent on just that. Then pump the hell out of their hand. Smile. If you can’t smile, you can’t be gracious. You aren’t some dopey English butler. You are you.

Remember that the only representation of you, no matter what your station, is you — your presentation, your demeanor. You simply must attend. Stand when someone enters the room, especially if you are lowly and he is the boss, and even if the reverse is true. Look them in the eye. Ask yourself: Does anybody need an introduction? If so, before you say one word about business, introduce them to others with pleasure in your voice. If you can’t muster enthusiasm for the people you happen upon in life, then you cannot be gracious. Remember, true graciousness demands that you have time for others.

So listen. Be attentive to what people say. Respond, without interruption. You always have time. You own the time in which you live. You grant it to others without obligation. That is the gift of being gracious. The return — the payback, if you will — is the reputation you will quickly earn, the curiosity of others, the sense that people want to be in the room with you. The gracious man does not dwell on himself, but you can be confident that your reputation precedes you in everything you do and lingers long after you are finished. People will mark you for it. You will see it in their eyes. People trust the gracious man to care. The return comes in kind.

Read more: How To Be Gracious – Graciousness Meaning – Esquire
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First-world problems and the common or garden connoisseur

Great piece by J Peder Zane in The New York Times. Wish I’d thought of it:

In Pursuit of Taste, en Masse

AMERICANS didn’t always ask so many questions or expect so much in their quest for enjoyment. It was enough for them simply to savor a good cigar, a nice bottle of wine or a tasty morsel of cheese.

Not anymore. Driven by a relentless quest for “the best,” we increasingly see every item we place in our grocery basket or Internet shopping cart as a reflection of our discrimination and taste. We are not consumers. We have a higher calling. We are connoisseurs.

Connoisseurship has never been more popular. Long confined to the serious appreciation of high art and classical music, it is now applied to an endless cascade of pursuits. Leading publications, including The New York Times, routinely discuss the connoisseurship of coffee, cupcakes and craft beers; of cars, watches, fountain pens, lunchboxes, stereo systems and computers; of tacos, pizza, pickles, chocolate, mayonnaise, cutlery and light (yes, light, which is not to be confused with the specialized connoisseurship of lighting). And the Grateful Dead, of course.

This democratization of connoisseurship is somewhat surprising since as recently as the social upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s connoisseurship was a “dirty word” — considered “elitist, artificial, subjective and mostly imaginary,” said Laurence B. Kanter, chief curator of the Yale University Art Gallery. Today, it is a vital expression of how many of us we want to see, and distinguish, ourselves.

As its wide embrace opens a window onto the culture and psychology of contemporary America, it raises an intriguing question: If almost anything can be an object of connoisseurship — and if, by implication, almost anyone can be a connoisseur — does the concept still suggest the fine and rare qualities that make it so appealing?

There were probably Neanderthals who tried to distinguish themselves through their exquisite taste in cave drawings. But the word connoisseur was not coined until the 18th century — in France, of course, as a symbol of the Enlightenment’s increasingly scientific approach to knowledge.

At a time when precious little was known about the provenance of many works of art, early connoisseurs developed evaluative tools — for example, identifying an artist’s typical subject matter, use of color and use of light — to authenticate works by revered masters and to debunk pretenders to the pedestal.

“Works of art do not carry a guarantee,” said Dr. Kanter. “It has always been the job of the connoisseur to question, investigate, refine the received wisdom of earlier generations.”

As the aristocracy declined and the bourgeoisie enjoyed new wealth, especially after the Napoleonic upheavals, the number of people who could afford art expanded, as did the types of art they were interested in. Connoisseurship grew in response to the need for authoritative guidance in a changing world. In the 19th century, connoisseurs helped reassess the works of forgotten artists, like Giotto, Fra Angelico and Botticelli, who are now considered canonical. They studied and appraised ignored forms like German woodcuts, French porcelain and English statuary.

Contemporary efforts to apply connoisseurship to a host of far-flung fields are consistent with this history. “Our definition of quality continues to expand and mature,” Dr. Kanter said, “so it makes sense that we can talk now about connoisseurs not just of art but also of rap music, comic books and Scotch. Connoisseurship is not about objects; it’s a process of thinking about and making distinctions among things.”

True connoisseurs — and this is what makes the label so appealing — do not merely possess knowledge, like scholars. They possess a sixth sense called taste. They are renowned for the unerring judgment of their discerning eye. They are celebrated because of their rare talent — their gift — for identifying and appreciating subtle, often hidden, qualities.

Despite its expanded applications, connoisseurship still revolves around art, if we define art broadly as things that are more than the sum of their parts because they offer the possibility of transcendence. We do not speak of connoisseurs of nature (which can transport us) or diapers (which are simply useful). But no one blinks when we apply the term to wine, food or literary forms like comic books, because these are believed to offer deeper experiences to those who can gain access to them. Generally speaking, almost anyone can become an expert, but connoisseurship means we’re special.

If connoisseurship is a way of thinking, its rising popularity reflects the fact that people have so many more things to think about. ` Robert H. Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell whose books include “Luxury Fever: Why Money Fails to Satisfy in an Era of Excess,” noted that the British economist John Maynard Keynes worried during the 1920s and ’30s that rising productivity would lead people to work less as it became easier to satisfy their basic needs.

“It’s funny,” Dr. Frank said, “that someone as smart as he was didn’t realize that we would invent a million new things to spend our money on and create higher and higher standards of quality for those products that would cost more and more.”

Hence the $5 cup of coffee and the $8 pickle.

In the dark ages before arugula, most supermarkets seemed to carry only one type of lettuce, iceberg, and apples were either green or red. In 1945, the average grocer carried about 5,000 products; today, that number is more than 40,000, according to Paul B. Ellickson, a professor of economics and marketing at the University of Rochester.

In addition, the Internet has made millions of other options just a mouse click away. Easy access to higher-quality products opens new avenues of connoisseurship — gorau glas cheese is more interesting, more provocative, than Velveeta. But it also presents us with a mind-numbing series of choices. In this context, connoisseurship is a coping strategy. When we say we want “the best,” we winnow our options, focusing our attention on a small sample of highly regarded items.

Put another way, rising connoisseurship is a response to life in an age of information shaped by consumerism. As ideas increasingly become the coin of the realm, people distinguish themselves by what they know. An important way to demonstrate this is through what they buy.

It is a form of conspicuous consumption that puts less emphasis on an item’s price tag — craft beers aren’t that expensive — than on its perceived cachet. In hoisting a Tripel brewed by Belgian monks, the drinker is telling the world: I know which ale to quaff. As, in all fairness, he enjoys a very tasty beverage.

Ironically, many items celebrated as examples of connoisseurship — handcrafted, small-batch, artisanal products — are themselves a reaction against the mass production trends of the global consumer society that shapes us. Just as art connoisseurs authenticate paintings, others seek wines and cheese and cupcakes that seem mystically authentic.

“A lot of what gets called connoisseurship is really just snobbery,” said Thomas Frank, who has dissected modern consumer culture in books like “Commodify Your Dissent,” which he edited with Matt Weiland, and “The Conquest of Cool.” “It’s not about the search for quality, but buying things that make you feel good about yourself. It’s about standing apart from the crowd, demonstrating knowledge, hipness.”

The rub is that, as access to knowledge through a Google search has become synonymous with possessing knowledge, fewer and fewer people seem to have the inclination or patience to become true connoisseurs. How many people, after all, have the time to make oodles of money and master the worlds of craft beer, cheese, wines and everything else people in the know must know?

In response, most people outsource connoisseurship, turning to actual connoisseurs for guidance. “Many people want the patina of connoisseurship on the cheap,” said Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory and social action at Swarthmore College. “So they contract out the decision-making process. My guess is that a tiny fraction of people who are true connoisseurs of wine — and there are some — don’t make enough money to buy a $500 bottle of wine.”

As Steven Jenkins, an expert on cheese and other products at Fairway Market in New York, recently told a reporter for The New York Times: “The customer has no idea what he or she wants. The customer is dying to be told what they want.”

People have always relied on connoisseurs for guidance. What is different today is the idea — suggested by journalists and marketers intent on flattering their customers — that people can become paragons of taste simply by taking someone else’s advice.

Dr. Schwartz said this could be a wise strategy. Consumers may not get the pleasures of deep knowledge, but they also avoid the angst. “You get the benefits of discernment without paying the psychological price” of having to make difficult choices and distinctions, he said. “You’re happy because you’ve been told what to get and don’t know any better.”

This psychological dimension is essential to understanding connoisseurship, said Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University whose books include “Predictably Irrational.” While recognizing that a small handful of people are true connoisseurs, he said his experiments with people interested in wine revealed a startling lack of discernment.

In one experiment, Dr. Ariely asked people to taste and write descriptions of four wines. He waited 10 minutes and then gave them a blind taste test, asking them to match the wines to their descriptions. For the most part, they couldn’t.

In another experiment, he used food coloring to make white wine appear red. The participants, he said, “rated it highly in terms of tannins, complexity” and other general characteristics of red wine.

Dr. Ariely’s work dovetails with other experiments that have found, for instance, that many people cannot tell the difference between foie gras and dog food in blind taste tests.

Even connoisseurs have a hard time getting it right. Echoing a famous blind taste test of wines from California and France in 1976, known as the Judgment of Paris, nine wine experts gathered at Princeton University in 2012 to compare revered wines from France with wines from New Jersey that cost, on average, about 5 percent as much. Not only did the experts give vastly different scores for many of the wines, but they rated the Garden State wines on a par with their costly French counterparts.

Dr. Ariely said these results did not necessarily debunk the notion of connoisseurship. “Whether we can actually tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine may be less important than whether we think that we can,” he said. “We might actually experience more pleasure when drinking an expensive wine, enjoy it more, because we’re slowing down, savoring it, paying more attention to its qualities.”

Which, as it turns out, is a hallmark of connoisseurship.

The Man Quote: Teddy Roosevelt

Being English, I was never really taught much about American politicians. Our own are, of course, far more inspiring, with their legendary sang froid and phlegmatic approach to life and morality.

Would that it were as simple as that. America has produced heroes and legends alike. For me, Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) is a fascinating character. A true man. Politics is only part of his legend, he was also a brilliant naturalist, explorer, hunter, author, conservationist and soldier.

Sickly as a child – he suffered terribly from asthma – he fought back and “made” his body, with the help of a gym his father made for him and a huge amount of perseverance. When he graduated, Roosevelt underwent a physical examination and his doctor told him that, due to serious heart problems, he should find a desk job and avoid strenuous activity. He chose to embrace strenuous life instead. (the picture below is from his days at Harvard – he’s wearing a sculling costume, but also enjoyed boxing).

In 1861, he went through what no one should ever have to endure. His wife Alice gave birth to their first child, a daughter, but died two days later of undiagnosed kidney failure. If that wasn’t enough, his mother also died (of Typhoid), on the same day, in the same house. He was broken. In his diary he wrote a large X on the page and wrote “the light has gone out of my life.” Roosevelt wrote headed for the badlands of Dakota to heal. Working shoulder to shoulder with all kinds of men in the west he said, “took the snob” out of him. Working the ranch brought about a profound love of the open land, unique geography and animal species that were fast disappearing with increased settlement and development.

Eventually he remarried – his long-term friend, Edith – and moved back to Washington before heading to New York as Police commissioner. He was famous for prowling the streets at all hours learning more about the police as well as the worst corners of the city. He greatly reduced corruption, increased the use of technologies and created one of the first academies for police training. In 1898 he raised a volunteer troop of cowboys and college athletes – the Rough Riders – to help fight the Spanish in Cuba. He lead one charge on horseback and one charge on foot, inspiring his troops but exposing himself to enemy fire.

His exploits here, and the way he stood up for his men (he was a volunteer too) propelled him into politics, and when President McKinley was shot in 1901, Roosevelt became, at 42, America’s youngest ever President. I’ll skip a chunk, as for the rest you should read books on and by him, but you should know that his life didn’t end with the presidency. He went on a mammoth safari in Africa, explored South America (mapping The River of Doubt, which flows into the Amazon, nearly died from malaria, oversaw the Panama Canal’s construction, fought for America to join the First World War… in short, he led the sort of life most of us can only ever dream of, but one we should all aspire to.

A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.

A man who is good enough to shed his blood for the country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.

A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues.

Appraisals are where you get together with your team leader and agree what an outstanding member of the team you are, how much your contribution has been valued, what massive potential you have and, in recognition of all this, would you mind having your salary halved.

Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.

Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country.

Get action. Seize the moment. Man was never intended to become an oyster.

I am only an average man but, by George, I work harder at it than the average man.

I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do! That is character!

I don’t pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being.

If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.

Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.

Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.

No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well-being, to risk his body, to risk his life, in a great cause.

No people is wholly civilized where a distinction is drawn between stealing an office and stealing a purse.

Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.

Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.

The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.

The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.

The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.

The only time you really live fully is from thirty to sixty. The young are slaves to dreams; the old servants of regrets. Only the middle-aged have all their five senses in the keeping of their wits.

The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.

There has never yet been a man in our history who led a life of ease whose name is worth remembering.

When you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.

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