Etiquette of the Soul

Fundamentally, social manners consist of taking into account how people feel. Not in a scary, co-dependent way, but in a compassionate and inclusive way. Showing up on time, waiting your turn, please-and-thank-you…pretty basic stuff, really.

But big and small, every polite gesture takes into account how our actions will impact on everyone, including ourselves. That is to say, most of us probably don’t feel great after being rude. We might justify our behavior as being necessary, to get what we wanted in the moment. But if we’re thinking about it at all, it’s likely that we’re not terribly pleased if we’ve been unkind or rude.

What About “Spiritual Manners”?

In fact, how are your morals overall? Are they well-defined and consistent– some might say rigid – never failing, always sure? Or are they mutable – some might say weak – adapting and changing to accommodate what you believe serves you in the moment? There’s no right or wrong answer. Just think about it for a minute.

I once knew someone who referred to himself as a “moral relativist.” A moral relativist is someone whose ethical behavior adapts to the various cultural circumstances in which they find themselves. But honestly, he seemed to use this term as a way to let himself off the hook for what he knew others experienced as a selfish disregard for their needs. This isn’t to say he was a bad person, but neither was he a true moral relativist. A disregard for the needs of others is not so much moral relativism as it is a very human lack of moral concern.

It’s How We Live, Not What We Achieve

Let’s think about what kind of world we live in when our own needs do not include the needs of others. Who are we? What are we?

When “doing what’s best for me” doesn’t include considering what might be best for you too, perhaps I am actually doing not just you but myself a grave disservice.

If we are, indeed, spiritual creatures having a human experience, it seems fairly apparent that spiritual etiquette resides in the daily decisions we make about how to interact with one another. We express the divine – or our sense of ethics, if you prefer – by how we live, not by what we achieve on a corporeal level.

The Daily Differences of Change

Would it be a waste of your time to actively extend kindness, to look for situations in which you could extend kindness, to prioritize what is a simultaneously deep yet high need inside yourself to do for others, rather than needing them to get out the way of your plans? Sometimes, sure, you’re running late and that zooming right-hand turn out into oncoming traffic is going to make all the difference to the flow of your day, and everyone else will just have to deal with that.

But on the days when it won’t make any difference, perhaps try allowing another kind of difference to emerge inside the truest, most authentic part of yourself. Think about the needs of everyone in any encounter, and then simply decide how best to be kind.

It’s the little daily differences that change us and, in changing us, change the world. Be well.


Next time you’re faced with a decision on how to act – big or small, at home or while shopping at Trader Joe’s, on the road or in the office – think about what you really, truly, deeply need not just in the encounter, but from the encounter.

Do you need get to ahead of another person in line, or do you need to be in flow with the world around you?
Do you need to ensure that circumstances fall in your favor, to achieve a larger plan you have in mind?

Or might the largest plan to have in mind be to open your mind, and your heart, to the possibility that you might feel more complete if you facilitated circumstances supporting, or at least co-supporting, someone else?

Give it a try, and let me know how it goes in the comments.

Image courtesy of Frank Carmen

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