Part manner handbook, part therapy, part conversation with a close friend: a gracious guide to being a person
Welcome, reader, I’m just so glad you’re here! It’s a Monday and that means it’s time for another media recommendation.
July must be a mannerly month! Last week I recommended Shmanners, an etiquette podcast for the modern era. Today, I’m going to talk about one of my all-time favorite books, Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact, and Unsinkable Strength by Kelly Williams Brown. This is not your grandmother’s etiquette handbook.
Kelly’s definition of “graciousness” from the back cover states:
“Graciousness, at its heart, is the ability to be truly present to the humans around you, to face the world with a generous heart and a core of strength that is never eroded.”
Doesn’t everyone want to embody that? To make the people around them feel welcome and cared for and stand up for what we believe in while listening to other points of view? Ok, sign me up.
I’ll make a note here–Kelly is a former humor columnist for the Statesman Journal, so if you buy this book for the laughs alone, it will be well worth it. From her “Gracious Lady Way to Sh*t-Talk” tips to her hilariously funny footnotes, I devoured this book upon first read because it sounds like the way my friends and I talk to each other.
In this carefully curated seven-chapter manual on all things “being a genuinely kind human,” there are three chapters I want to highlight.
The first is “Chapter Two: Virtually Gracio.us,” in which Kelly explains “graciousness is about focused attention, kindness, and empathy and about moving deliberately in accordance with our values. The internet is none of those things.” She outlines principles of gracious internet communication, including “what you say is forever; make sure you can stand by it,” “if they don’t have something useful to say, you don’t need to listen,” and “do not let the internet control any more of your life than you choose.” Those seem like simple, common sense ideas, right? Then why did I find myself comparing my life to the ones I saw on Instagram, or commenting on my friends’ moms’ Facebook posts because they were wrong and I had to let them know, or the worst offence of all… fighting with the trolls? (Seriously, stay away from YouTube comment sections!) Because I hadn’t taken the time to check in and see if I was allowing myself to be treated graciously or treating others graciously on the internet. I literally grew up on the internet, so breaking bad habits is a process I’m still unlearning, but this chapter is a great place to start for anyone with any type of social media.
“Chapter Three: Grace Under Fire” is easily the most relevant piece of literature I’ve read in the past few years. These are tough times for graciousness, y’all. But, as Kelly says in this chapter, “Grace is steel, not a piñata.” Kelly categorizes common situations where your graciousness will be tested (someone is being unkind, you must stand up for something you believe in, you are caught in the middle of others’ conflicts, etc) and gives you practical strategies to deal with them! This is my roommate’s favorite chapter because it literally tells you the things to do and say when, for example, someone you just met at a party makes a sexist or racist comment, and how you would react differently if that person were, say, your boss. Kelly lays on the interpersonal skills in this chapter and I am forever grateful for it. The chapter ends with a section titled “The Center Cannot Hold, But You Can” which a. is a really beautiful phrase that I have absolutely stolen, and b. is a true celebration of the resiliency of gracious women. Kelly shares two stories of incredible women who maintained their graciousness under fire and brought me to tears. It is deeply moving and very, very uplifting.
Which brings me to “Chapter Four: How to be Gracious to Yourself”. I am a “never-looks-at-the-table-of-contents” reader, so this chapter snuck up on me. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I needed to read: “Graciousness is about kindness and generosity to humans; since you are a human, you should therefor reap the benefits of being treated well by yourself and be able to accept the kindness offered by others without trying to talk them out of it.” Real talk, y’all, I am so bad at putting myself first. I will move heaven and earth to help a friend but I’m still getting used to setting boundaries and sticking to them! My internal monologue most days goes something like “Ugh. I have so much work to do because I’m bad at my job so I’ll just stay late and then grab a granola bar on my way to babysitting and then tomorrow I’ll reschedule the stupid doctor’s appointment I’ve been putting off because it’s not important and then maybe Wednesday I can actually call my mom because I’m a terrible daughter and haven’t done that it a while.” Whew. Talk about rude. Kelly suggests spending a day just listening to that internal monologue and really evaluating how you’re treating yourself. Then, because she is a wonderful human, Kelly teaches readers how to combat those thoughts graciously and break the cycle of self-abuse.
This is way more than just a “how to navigate hosting a houseguest” manual, although she does have great tips for hosting. This is, as the subtitle states, “a practical primer on charm, tact, and unsinkable strength.” It is exactly what the world needs right now: a guide to authentic kindness, caring for the people you love and yourself.
If you love…
Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps, interacting with other people, thrifty ways to make your home feel welcoming, entertaining, sharp humor, and strong women, you’ll love Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact, and Unsinkable Strength.
(And if you hate passive-aggressive emails from co-workers, not knowing how to tell your friends to leave, and voicemails… you should probably pick yourself up a copy too.)
Have you read Gracious or Kelly’s other book Adulting? What did you think? Tell me below in the comments!