chocolate can be a last resort against cruelty

Dear Uma: Today’s epiphany: I find I crave civility more than I do chocolate. That’s not only saying a lot, but I am saying it as I eat…

Dear Uma:

Today’s epiphany: I find I crave civility more than I do chocolate. That’s not only saying a lot, but I am saying it as I eat chocolate ice cream, attempting to soothe myself after witnessing a particularly rude encounter in the town.

By now, I’m not much astonished by human behaviour, but meanness still disturbs my Wa.

In this instance, I wasn’t the object of the nastiness, I was only near it, but I still felt affected and not just because I knew the person under attack.

There were other innocent bystanders, too, and I don’t think I was the only one who caught the verbal spray; heads were bowed, eyes were lowered and paces quickened as the scene was abandoned to all but the participants.

I feel I’ve never lived long enough in one place to comprehend all the nuances of its society, hence my role as observer and sometimes commentator, but I do understand civility and seeing a breach of it upsets me to a degree only chocolate can heal.

My favourite movies feature people being kind to one another; the more difficult the circumstances, the better.

Animal stories, love stories, stories of extreme heroism leave me dry-eyed, but people showing compassion and grace make me fill the Kleenex.

Couldn’t bad manners be everyone’s business? Maybe if we all felt empowered to remark on it, we might conduct ourselves with more attention to the rules of social interaction.

Harnessing and using for Good the ancient power of ostracism.

“Hey everyone! Look at that! Edith is carrying her kid and two bags and Frank didn’t hold the door open for her!”

Anyone in the vicinity would then boo and hiss, or merely raise their eyebrows, making Frank feel the consequences of his lack of manners.

I’d heard how friendly small towns are; that has not been my experience of this one, though I suspect it isn’t the only one where the population has had to accommodate increasing pressures of modern life.

It’s not an unfriendly place, just not particularly welcoming.

Anywhere on the planet you can find those people that have a happiness and a wholeness to them, which enables them to regard the world with curiosity and pleasure, rather than wariness and suspicion.

In Watson Lake, like most places, those people are scarce.

No one seems interested in new people to any degree unless they arrive with promises of an economic boost for the town.

Those newcomers are made much of, no matter how unrealistic and sometimes downright ludicrous those promises may be.

Newcomers exhibiting signs of what can be construed as unusual practices or ideas (most of which are old news in the more southern climes) makes the herd members clump together nervously, snuffling and stamping the ground.

The non-native population seems to be divided into three groups: the longtimers, who more or less run everything and seem to constitute the nucleus of the herd; the newcomers, who are doing their jobs and often not planning on staying; and those who have lived here for many years but are not members of the longtimers’ group.

The latter are the ones I find the most interesting, and the most interested.

They can’t be called a group because they tend to be wildly different from one another, their commonality being their outsider status.

These, I suspect, are the rugged individualists of northern lore.

Back to civility: I don’t know if more attention to good manners would bring these different groups together, but I believe it might make daily meetings nicer, maybe creating a deeper sense of community.

We depend on ordinary pleasantries for a sense of well-being.

And there are all those new studies telling us that when we smile and make nice, our brains and bodies get positively flooded with a sort of joy juice.

Might this be the body’s manufactured equivalent of chocolate?

Ah, civility!

It evolved as a way to make living together possible; everyone knows the rules and rituals of their culture, their community, their tribe, their family.

Practising them with care makes the necessary contact easier for everyone.

The differences in what constitutes good behaviour differ widely; what is admirable in some societies would be considered downright despicable in others.

In some parts of the world, for instance, gossip is good.

If someone has an issue with another person, he or she is expected to talk about it to everyone except that person.

She or he can rant and rave, describing the event, and the perp, in lurid detail, confident that the story will inevitably arrive in the ears of the person who has offended.

The ultimate purpose of this exercise is to provide the offender the opportunity to make amends, usually with some act that is clearly apologetic.

In most cases, this is utterly satisfactory and it is all achieved without any verbal acknowledgment between the two parties.

It’s called “saving face;” no one has to out-and-out admit they’ve been a jerk and no one has to be seen as being a victim.

Every grouping has such mechanisms.

One of my favourites here has to do with newcomers picking up their mail, before they have a post office box, when they are using “general delivery.”

I was told when I first arrived that the folk who work in the one and only post office are not fond of being informed when someone is waiting for their mail by a hoot or a holler or even a “Hello! Anybody there?”

When they aren’t out front, they are sorting mail and attending to other tasks, and such attention-getting devices make them resentful.

One does not want to create feelings of resentment, particularly with those providing a very important service.

“Well, what does one do?” was my question when I was told this bit of local lore, thinking maybe there is some high-pitched sound only posties can hear and I was about to learn it.

The very best, the most effective and face-saving on all levels, I was told, is to drop one’s car keys on the counter. The act is reasonable, freeing one’s hands to receive parcels and envelopes, the sound is self-explanatory and the staff cheerful in their response.

Now, that is beautiful, say I — a wonderful example of how people create rituals that smooth those potentially fraught times of meeting face-to-face to conduct daily business.

There. Ice cream gone and spleen vented.

Money may talk, but chocolate sings.

Now there is room to tell you about the great time I had at a tea party over the weekend.

An outdoor tea party, to celebrate temperatures hovering around zero!

There was a bonfire, an amazing variety of teas, good things to eat, and a lot of conversation about gardening, of all things.

Oddly, this land of abbreviated summers is home to a host of passionate horticulturists. The

enthusiasm for soil and seedlings got to me, as enthusiasms will; (remember the caged-bird society?) now I’m deep into seed catalogues and gardening magazines.

Uma, it’s a whole new world! The tools! Elegance combined with practicality! The beautiful pots and boxes and things for growing stuff in!

There are special things to wear whilst toiling in the soil, and at least a dozen different sorts of footwear. The simplicity of the whole endeavour is a major appeal; one puts seeds in dirt and then eats the results!

Obviously, I’m going to grow food, not flowers. To hell with crafts or cooking — I have found my thing.

I won’t try to engage you with this one; your feelings about growing things other than horses are well known to me, (and there you are, living in one of this continent’s prime places to grow just about anything) but ride along with me a bit on this one, OK?

I know you’ll support the idea of my diet expanding to include vegetables.

Pity one can’t grow hamburgers, or pizza, or chocolate….



PS: Pete’s home again; he was less than pleased about the broken window, though he did appreciate the thought behind the endeavour that led to its demise, especially the part involving an apron and stilettos.

He disposed of the carcass of the blender and, after examining my injuries, made me promise not to undertake any more projects involving small appliances unless he is in residence.

He is, as you have often reminded me, a man of much patience and understanding.

Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.

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