By Ken Chapman, Ph.D.
Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc.
When looking closely at civility, it is amazing how many ways there are of showing respect for others and those around us. Minding our bodies is one of them and certainly not a minor consideration.
We all know that we can offend others with our bodies. We do that with the way our bodies look, the way they smell, and what we do with and to them. Thus, we all need to become familiar with the civility of body management which begins with good basic grooming habits.
When we take good care of our bodies and our appearance, we implicitly validate who we are─a person worthy of respect. In turn, we view others as deserving of respect. Behind the attention to our grooming are the goals of appearing at our best on the stage of everyday life and of being as pleasant a presence for others as possible.
Essential to good grooming are a clean and odor-free body, recently washed hair, finger and toe nails in perfect order, a close shave or properly managed facial hair, well-applied makeup if worn, clean teeth, and fresh breath. Also essential are clean and un-rumpled clothes, well-kept shoes, neat socks, and run-free stockings.
Good grooming is simple, good, self-maintenance. We are expected to do that maintenance, including makeup, in private. The clipping of nails at the office desk and on public transportation has, unfortunately, become rather common. Horror stories of workplace incivility include tooth brushing at the office drinking fountain.
Be ready to make little grooming-related sacrifices for the sake of those around you. If you carpool or use public transportation, do not wear strong perfume or after-shave lotion. You do not want to over-whelm your fellow riders. About perfumes in general, there are those who dislike them or are allergic to them. Make sure that your wearing perfume at work is not a problem for the health of your co-workers.
It is Saturday morning and if you are not planning to go out all day, do you have to shave? Do you have to wash your hair? Do you have to wear clean underwear even if that means doing a load of laundry because your underwear drawer is empty? Maybe you want to shave, wash your hair, and wear clean underwear because you would not be comfortable otherwise, but you may need an incentive. It is hard to do the grooming just for yourself. Do it for those who share your home. No one will be physically closer to you for a longer time than your companion, your spouse, and your family. Make sure that your body care is such that it adds to their comfort in being with you. It is best to let go of the idea that although we are expected to be well-groomed in public, there is nothing wrong with a little private slovenliness. This is part of a larger assumption that good manners in general can be forgotten when we are with those closest to us. On the contrary, being civil to them is one of the most concrete ways to show them that we love them.
When we are well-groomed, we often experience a sense of both physical and psychological well-being. We feel good and we feel good about ourselves. When this happens, we are better disposed toward others. We treat them better and are thus better treated in return.
The civility of body management is more than good grooming habits. Here are some other civil ways to deal with our bodies that are equally important.
1. Keep your fingers at a safe distance from your mouth, ears, and nose. Even if the food you are eating is finger-licking good.
If your fingers are sticky with food, wipe them with a napkin or wash your hands. Do not use your fingers to dislodge food from your teeth. What you need instead is a toothbrush and a bathroom. Do not stick a finger in your ear to collect anything real or imaginary. If your ears need care, use Q-tips or wax removing tools in privacy.
Never stick your fingers up your nose. Simple and quick nose cleaning may be done wherever you are with the help of a handkerchief or a tissue. More elaborate nose care is done in private. As for nose blowing, do it quickly and unobtrusively. Afterward, do not check the handkerchief’s contents as if (to use the vivid image found in medieval and Renaissance courtesy tracts) you expect pearls and precious stones to have fallen from your brain.
2. Keep your mouth closed at all times while chewing. This, of course, means that you should not talk and chew at the same time. Do not make any noises with your mouth—no slurping, no audible chewing, no smacking of the lips. Cover your mouth with your hand when yawning, coughing, or sneezing. The best way of handling a sneeze, however, is with the help of a handkerchief or a tissue.
3. Do not sniffle, snort, or make any other unpleasant and annoying noise with your nose or your throat.
4. Head for the bathroom whenever intestinal gas becomes a problem. Always wash your hands thoroughly on your way out.
5. Never spit. Be careful not to spray those around you when you speak. If you speak at length, unobtrusively wipe your mouth with a clean handkerchief once in a while. You will thus eliminate any unsightly buildup at the corners of your mouth.
6. Do not scratch yourself. Do not chew your fingernails.
Do all that you can to present yourself in the very best light. It is not only an indication of self-respect, but also an indication of the respect you are willing to extend to others.
The Art of Body Management
By Ken Chapman, Ph.D.
About Our Firm
For over 40 years Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc. has been making a measurable difference in the corporate cultures of American businesses and in the lives of their team members. KC&A’s value equation is “Committed to People, Profit, and More.”