Last term I left a lecture theatre eagerly – I did quite a few times actually, but on this particular occasion I stopped to hold the door open for some other people first.
No no after you
I let a guy and a girl go ahead of me. They may have been dating; they certainly knew each other – it doesn’t matter. There was nothing unusual about it. You wouldn’t write a blog post about it. So why am I? Why on earth do I even remember this? Because the guy turns to his friend and says: “Maybe chivalry isn’t dead.” I couldn’t tell whether his tone was sarcastic or suggestive. It was just annoying. But what was worse, was when she blushed.
I think they both thought that I was somehow making a gentlemanly gesture towards her. I clearly fancied her. Yeah…no. I wasn’t making any kind of gesture. I wasn’t holding the door open for her, and I wasn’t holding the door open for him. I was just holding the door open.
You might credit me with good manners. But to be honest, it wasn’t even a conscious decision. I have to admit that in that situation I wasn’t actively being polite. Instead I was driven by the innate desire to avoid an awkward situation. We all have this. A group of people getting stuck in a doorway is just embarrassing isn’t it – it would involve further social interaction: an apology and a negotiation anyway about who proceeds first.
The same innate orientation to avoid an awkward situation at any cost is the reason you will offer the last cookie to someone else, isn’t it?
Please, be my guest
Sure, you want it. But it’s not worth feeling guilty over.
And you’ll have the same response in countless other situations too. The fear of failing to meet social expectation has become greater than our desire to do the right thing in the first place.
I should think there’s already a word for the phobia of awkward situations, but on the slight chance that there isn’t, may I suggest ‘politeness’?