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Vanishing Social Skills We Need to Bring Back

Handshake between men in suits

In my last article I wrote about skills that the millennial generation (and others) have forgotten or simply were never taught. I limited those skills to physical things like reading a map, operating a chainsaw, and changing a flat tire. But as I look around at our country, I personally see an increasing lack of social skills ... not only among those far younger than me (I'm 56) but also even in my own generation!

Studies have shown that social media has undermined social skills. I know we'll never achieve a paradise here on earth, but I thought of two basic categories of vanishing social skills that we need to make an effort to bring back.

1. Verbal skills.

When I read letters from 18th or 19th century America, I am struck by the amazing command of vocabulary and grammar so many common Americans once had. I know we've always had slang and people using poor grammar, but is it getting worse?

It's almost to the point where I wonder if I can even understand some people who are talking to me. Are you tired of people trying to speak but loading each sentence with "and um, like, ya know"? I hear sentences like this: "And then, um, like, I was like, ya know, literally dying laughing and um, like, ya know, everyone was literally, like, looking at me, ya know?"

Please learn the meaning of "literally," stop misusing the word, and please get rid of "verbal pauses." The word "like" does not need to be every other word. If you make these corrections you will make your point, finish the sentence faster, and sound more intelligent.

Listen to people. Even if you think their story is boring or their argument is ridiculous, listen to them. It's just being polite. If you simply can't stand the conversation, find a good reason to politely break it off and leave. But rolling your eyes or looking at your phone is simply selfish and rude. (Please get your face OUT of your phone! If you do, you'll actually find that there is a world to explore and enjoy beyond a silly phone.)

If someone is trying to convince you that their argument is valid, they will fail miserably if they do not show common courtesy. You want people to listen to you in a conversation? Then be quiet for a few minutes and listen to them. The good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

Erase vulgarity from your vocabulary. Yeah, I know I sound like a prude here, don't I? How many of us really enjoyed Ashley Judd and her rant at the March for Women last year? Even if you agree with her politically, her vocabulary was nothing to emulate. Filthy toilets in a men's bathroom in a truck stop are cleaner than her mouth.

When I was a teenager, I never heard a girl in my high school use profanity. Now, I'm sure they did privately, but I never heard it from a girl in a public high school of 1400 students. Now I hear young ladies use the foulest language that would make a sailor blush. Is this something to be proud of? Is our culture becoming more and more accepting of crude language? Wouldn't it be better if we made an effort to reform our language and refuse to use such filthy communication?

I watched David Hogg, the de facto spokesman for the anti-Second Amendment crowd, spout off with his potty mouth. Does he really think he will gain converts with such juvenile and depraved language? My father told me years ago, "Son, a man who uses vulgarity just proves that his vocabulary is not very good. He can't make his point any other way." I believe my father was right.

If we want a more civil society, shouldn't it start with us in cleaning up the words we choose? And if we are Christians, shouldn't we heed the words of Colossians 3:8 ("But now you yourselves are to put off all these — anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth")? When I was a little boy, I wanted to grow up and be a gentleman. I never saw profanity as part of the job description of "gentleman."

Don't be a "one-upper." What's that? Sadly, you probably know these people very well. If you are explaining to them that you've had a really hard day, they interrupt and immediately start telling you how THEIR day was SO much worse! They always have a story to tell about how their life is harder, how their experiences were greater, how they know so much more than you, how they always have it worse, how they always have it better, yada yada yada. That's called being obnoxious in my book. If we don't constantly try to "one up" the other guy, but actually listen to him, maybe we'll learn something and gain a friend.

Just be grateful for each day, and remember to tell people, "Thank you" and "You're welcome."  I know our parents taught us these things when we were two, but the days are long, and it seems that people are getting meaner and less patient (am I just imagining this?). When someone lets you in while you're driving in heavy traffic, wave a "thank you" to them. Write thank you cards immediately when you receive a gift. Tell people you appreciate them. We may not need a special occasion to do it; let's be grateful for others in our lives just because it makes a more pleasant world to live in.

2. Appearance.

When I watch movies from long ago, or think back to how people dressed when they went out, I remember that people really took pride in their appearance. I traveled to Italy two years ago, and I was shocked at how the Italians dressed! When they walked out of their homes, they were dressed in their best. No one wandered the streets in his pajamas with his butt crack showing.

I thought about so many scenes in my own town. Some days it is painful to go shopping. I know some people are poor and don't have much, but how much does it take to take a little pride in how you look? I sometimes think that some people try as hard as they can to look at bad as possible!

If you want to improve your lot in life, so much of it does indeed depend on how you appear to others and how you carry yourself. When I talk to kids, I notice how they rarely look me in the eye. I ask them if they have something in their eye, and when they say, "No," I tell them it's okay to look up and look at me when they're talking. Stand up straight. You look more confident that way anyway. I often think of the funny scene from "The Princess Diaries" when Julie Andrews tells Anne Hathaway not to "shlump like this" when she walks:

I would encourage people to limit the piercings, gauges, and tattoos. Yeah, they may look cool and awesome now when you're 20, but when you get to be my age, everything starts sagging and well ... it doesn't look so cool or awesome anymore. Think ahead. Maybe your tattoos, piercings, and gauges need to be toned down a bit? Piercings can heal, but tattoos are permanent, and they might just limit your upward mobility.

Remember the old saying "you never get a second chance to make a first impression"? Well, that is a true statement. How you appear to others makes a huge statement about yourself, and you want to think about that carefully as you prepare for a job interview. Here are some tips from one of my favorite websites, The Art of Manliness. And before anyone thinks I'm too much of an old fogey, here are some tips for men in their 20s.

Here are some successful dressing tips for the ladies:

And here's a good video for successful dressing for the gentlemen:

Don't forget that good table manners are a social skill you need to pay attention to. You will likely be eating with other people throughout the week. It drives me crazy when people smack their food and chew with their mouth open. Isn't that just disgusting? Who wants to see your food while you're chewing? Honestly, I see adults, not just kids, who "shlump" on the table with their head over their food, shoveling their grub into their mouths and eating like a barbarian. Please, I don't want to hear you consuming your food. Why not just sit up straight and close the mouth when you chew? It's more polite and better for your digestion. Here are some good reminders about this important social skill:

The last skill dealing with appearance is rather physical. It is the handshake. About seven years ago I met a prominent member of the United States House of Representatives. I went to shake his hand like my father taught me: look a man straight in the eye and firmly shake his hand. This congressman grabbed just the first few fingers of my right hand and with a limp wrist (I kid you not) pumped my three fingers up and down once. When the gathering was over, he did it again. I have held better dead fish than this man's handshake. My father would tell me that you could tell a lot from a man's handshake. It's true. At that moment I knew that congressman was a no-good slimy crook, and the next several years proved that.

I don't care if you're male or female, when you greet someone nothing turns people off faster than a limp-wristed "slimy" handshake. Act like you are alive and not a cadaver! Look the person in the eye, grasp their hand firmly (you don't need to crush it) and then let go. Don't hang on for minutes on end, either. (I've had that happen to me before, and it's kind of creepy.)

I'm sure there are plenty of other social skills we are losing, but I think if we make an effort to work on just a few of these, we'll eventually have a society that is more civil and pleasant to be a part of once again. And even if people are chewing with their mouth open, using bad grammar, and wearing pajamas while they are shopping, be grateful for each day, smile, and be nice. Your social graces will eventually catch on.