Mind Your Manners Please

I go to a lot of networking events for my job. Some are fun and some are, well_meh…I’d rather clean the toilet than have to go make chit chat at the Quack Society luncheon (where there’s a raffle to win 5 rounds of free ammo and 2 tickets to the Bumpkin Skeet Shooting Club). Regardless, I try to make the best of it. Many times I know everyone in the room; sometimes I don’t know a soul and have to make a concerted effort to make friends and introduce myself.

However, it can be a challenge in these social scenarios to put yourself out there when you do not know anyone. Introverts tend to avoid it altogether.

People have always split into social groups since the beginning of time. Most of us want to be a “cool kid” on the playground, to fit in. Nevertheless, someone always sits alone.

Recently, one of my colleagues asked me, “What table did you sit at?” As if to imply that there was a right or wrong place to be seated.

At that particular event, I chose to sit up front (alone initially), assuming that I would be joined by some acquaintances I knew there. Instead, I ended up with a random woman and a strange fella with a handlebar mustache at a table for 8. To my left there was a table of suited corporate guys laughing as if they’d known each other since kindergarten. I had landed at the “Nerd Table.” This got me thinking about cliques, inclusiveness and being polite.

CBS Sunday Morning contributor Steve Hartman recently did a story focusing on a young man at a Florida high school who is making a difference by connecting students who are cast out. Denis Estimon says, “It’s not a good feeling, you’re by yourself. And that’s something that I don’t want anybody to go through.” The feeling is described as excruciating. He started a club at the school whose mission is to go into the courtyard at lunch and make sure that no one is alone-it’s called We Dine Together.

We should all be as courteous and kind as Denis. His refreshing civility is simple and good etiquette. Next time you are at an event, or in a social situation and see someone by themselves, reach out and invite them to join you _make an outsider feel accepted.

There’s always going to be the Cool, Fun, and “Dork” Group…and the table with only one person. What matters is how you react when you end up seated there. The fact is that that person at your table, or the one next door, or even the experience itself could change your life. The “geek” that you bump into at the happy hour may just be your knight in shining horned rimmed glasses.

Tangentially: when possible, surround yourself with people who appreciate you. Be cognizant of how you spend your time. If you don’t like guns, you probably don’t need to go to the skeet shoot lunch event. Go where you will find commonality. If you see someone alone, connect with them.

What I know for certain is that I am grateful to have sat at ALL the tables: fun, nerd, alone, candlelit (one of my favorites!). In essence, we are all at a “table of life” where anything can happen. Life is about what you make of it. Be nice to people, have a good attitude. In any situation, you are bound to learn something. It is less about where you sit and much more about how you act when you are there. Simply put, please just mind your manners.