Rugged individualism. Trail-blazing pioneers. Revolutionaries and rebels. In many ways, our American culture is built on a spirit of the freedom to go our own way. After all, the most defining document written by our Founding Fathers declared our independence. And yet, Samuel Adams said it best by stating that the truest friend of liberty is a promoter of virtue.
So while staying true to ourselves is essential and honorable, there are moments in life where it’s not only considerate, but necessary to put aside our own interests and desires. The skill is in having the awareness and wisdom to know when those moments have arrived.
Some have called it the ability to “read a room.” Not working the room – but reading it. There is a notable difference. Working a room suggests we are on the hunt, looking out for our own interests and agendas. Reading a room takes empathy and respectful sophistication. It requires a sense of humility and an understanding that not every occasion is alike. It takes a certain kind of maturity to be able to discern the nuances and idiosyncrasies of different moments in life, and to adjust accordingly.
At times that may mean adjusting something as simple as our clothes. While some may argue that our attire is a superficial, trivial matter, the retort would be that what we wear is a reflection of our respect for our host or our guest. Looking sharp for a job interview, a date, a business meeting or a dinner party isn’t really about us – but about those in our presence and their importance. There should always be a healthy balance of the expression of who we are and a reflection of the value of those we are around.
Other times, understanding a sense of occasion may mean adjusting to a certain schedule. While it would be odd to show up to a party 20 minutes early, it would be rude to arrive at a wedding 20 minutes late. In most cases, arriving late is just another way of communicating to other people that they and their time don’t matter. It shows a certain level of respect to put our lives on hold for the sake of someone else’s moment.
But more often than not, following our intuition may mean simply adjusting how we interact with the people around us. When struggling with a socially awkward acquaintance, perhaps the honoring thing to do isn’t to dominate the conversation, but to listen patiently, allowing him the opportunity to be heard. It takes strength of character to be that in tune with another’s needs.
Being confident in who we are as an individual is important, but it’s often best expressed in our ability to travel in different circles, assimilate in various situations, interact with a variety of people, and to be at ease while we do it. It’s the essence of maturity. By continuing to hone our awareness, we become comfortable and adept at almost any situation and setting. And since showing a sense of decorum is becoming more and more rare in our world – that makes those who possess a sense of occasion…rebels.