March 15 – Being in the groove of graciousness

“Graciousness is more than good manners. It is more than courtesy. It is the etiquette of the soul. True graciousness has such a divine quality we feel it is something that comes through us and not from us.” (Fred Smith)

Much is said about people being gracious hosts, or having grace under fire. It is that quality seen in people that allows them to be bigger than the situation and to remain, or even become, calm in a pressure situation.

The gracious host or hostess seems unaffected by the swirl of activity around them as they make each guest feel comfortable, and “at home”. Their smile is easy and genuine, never forced. They seem always to have things under control, without seeming to be a control freak.

Similar things can be said for people who have grace under fire. When the pressure is turned up, they remain calm, cool and collected. They navigate their way through the situation and keep their heads about them. Sometimes we say that they “never let anyone see them sweat”. They perform under fire and appear to do so with the same ease as most would when times are completely calm.

Really, though, these examples are more about manners and courtesy. They are about the superficial view that limits the observer. To use another metaphor, they may in fact be like duck, looking calm on the surface while there is maelstrom going on just out of view. This quote suggests that true graciousness cannot be observed, it can only be felt.

Athletes talk of the concept of being “in the groove”.  A basketball player who has a tremendous shooting night will say it was like throwing a pebble in the ocean. A batter in baseball who is on a terrific streak will say that the ball looks the size of a beach ball. A quarterback who is on a tear will say that the game has slowed down to a crawl for him, and he can see more as a result. All of these are exaggerations of course. The rim and the baseball don’t change size, and the speed of the game doesn’t change. What changes for them is internal. They experience what psychologists call “flow”. Flow is that state of performance where everything falls into place, and the person feels as though they are merely channeling the action.

This quote reminds us that true graciousness is much like an athlete experiencing flow. When I find myself being truly gracious, it is completely effortless. My manners, and etiquette flow out of me with no more effort than the air going in and out of my lungs. For me this is a rare circumstance when dealing in social situations. I may appear to be completely at ease, but inside I am constantly worried about my guests. Do they have what they need? Are they enjoying themselves? Is the music I chose to their liking? I may smile through, and even immensely enjoy the party, but inside that duck-like maelstrom remains.

As I sit here I can think of few times that I have felt the graciousness that is reminiscent of a divine quality flowing through me. I think I have come closest when I have been on top of my game as a teacher or a public speaker. In those situations, when everything comes together, I have felt as though I could handle any audience, and teach any concept. Even world class athletes who are in the groove don’t stay there long. It is for them a special occurrence, and so it is with me. It’s rare for me to be in that perfect state, no matter how hard Iprepare.

To me, the concept of this quote – of reaching that perfect state of graciousness – is a very fleeting thing. It is the pinnacle attained only through preparation and practice. One is not born with this level of graciousness, nor does one roll out of bed unprepared and into this state. It takes sometimes a lifetime of diligent practice to reach that perfect state. And, it may last for just that one party.

To me this quote speaks of the need for constant practice for any situation in which grace is needed. It also speaks to the idea that only the gracious person knows if they have reached this point, and that they should enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

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