Civil Society – Following the Amenities

An impromptu post to spacebook last week, copied here. Not particularly deep, just food for thought…

There was a saying years ago that if you were not important enough to miss a phone call then you were really not very important. I have thought of this every time the last twenty years that I have watched people actually take phone calls when I was in the middle of a meeting with them. Was it ignorance or apathy? I didn’t know. It was rude though – I knew that much for sure. I have actually ended meetings over this in the past, much to the surprise of those with whom I had scheduled an appointment. Phone calls should never take precedence over pre-scheduled meetings, for multiple reasons.

I was in a meeting one afternoon with a man who got it, and I really appreciated that. He received a call on his cell, and said, “John, I am so sorry. My wife is in the hospital and I am the one shuttling our kids around. I really need to take this call. Is that okay?”
“Absolutely,” I said. This was actually a man I wanted to do business with after that.

As to how pervasive it has become that the bad behavior is now accepted as normal, I have had many people over the years ask me if I wasn’t going to answer my ringing phone when we were in a meeting. “No, I’m in a meeting,” I would say, matter-of-factly, ignoring my phone altogether and hoping that perhaps it would make a subtle impression on their subconscious going forward.

I see this same etiquette today with text messages. You are in the middle of conversation only to see your friend or associate feverishly responding to some message on their phone! I invariably stop talking when this happens, often unnoticed. I am not engaging in conversation just to hear myself talk. I had one guy rage at me years ago because I did not understand that he was responding to a text message!!! Talk about self-absorbed. That is the nice way to say what I was thinking.

My father was not a particularly polished man in many ways, but he had a pretty good sense of manners. He called it “following the amenities,” and I would say that is a pretty good description of civil behavior. I wish that more people today were concerned with following the amenities. I miss the days before cell phones and instant gratification when human beings were much more intent on being human than being digital. Life gives us the time we need if we only slow down enough to live in the present.


amenity – noun
plural amenities

  • an agreeable way or manner; courtesy; civility:
    the graceful amenities of society.
  • the quality of being pleasing or agreeable in situation, prospect, disposition, etc.; pleasantness
    the amenity of the Hawaiian climate.
synonyms: pleasantness, agreeableness, pleasurableness, enjoyableness, niceness
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