Small Wonders: Just open the door for someone

Last week, in my little corner of your local newspaper, I contemplated the ills of society. I offered my opinion on humanity’s great downfall, be it political, spiritual or social in nature. Namely, that all of us are so absorbed in our own interests and realities we can’t be bothered to consider the needs, beliefs or concerns of others.

Thanks to everyone for their feedback to my latest delusion of grandeur. And, no, I was not dropped on my head as a child. I fell. A lot.

Now I’m not so naive to think that any of our problems will be solved by a new seat warmer in the White House, the adoption of a new tax code, the limitation or expansion of certain inalienable rights or by holding hands globally and singing “Kumbaya” until pixie dust rains down from the heavens.

But I do believe there is something that has the power to change the world: a little civility. A little grassroots campaign at good old-fashioned manners.

“But how?” you ask with bated breath. Well, I’ll tell you. And for this one, you ladies can take a break. I’ll be talking to the men-folk.

Guys, help me out here. There’s a little thing I was taught that you always do for the ladies. Open the door for them. This nicety was pounded into me at a young age by my female-dominated family. I didn’t like it then, thought it was silly, pointless and a waste of time. But it stuck.

And if I were to listen to many of the women for whom I hold the door for each week, I am apparently in the minority of men. While holding the door open for a lady at the office or store, I'm often met with a look of shock and awe.

“It’s so nice to know there are still gentlemen out there,” they’ll say with all the silky gentility such a statement implies. Imagine Kate Winslet as a character in any Jane Austen novel. That’s what it sounds like. Picturing Kate Winslet in a corset helps.

And I am always equally shocked by their surprised reaction. I’m no Cyrano; just ask my better, fairer half. I’ve always assumed that all men were taught to open doors for ladies. If I am the poster boy for chivalry, the world is in a sorrier state than I imagined.

Seriously, guys. You can’t look up from your BlackBerry for two seconds to hold a door for a lady? No wonder this country is more philosophically and emotionally divided than it has ever been, a place where the mere mention of a differing view is met with venomous ridicule and resistance.

If we’ve lost our sense of decency at the subatomic level of common courtesy, how can we expect to agree on things like universal healthcare, corporate responsibility or X Factor vs. American Idol?

Not only should more men be holding doors open for ladies, but we also need to be teaching the next generation of young men such social graces.

Don't have the energy or skill set to do that? There are other ways. Besides having this stuff beaten into my head at home, I was forced to attend cult-like, militant, social behavioral aversion therapy.

That’s right. Cotillion.

In a series of evenings at the Tuesday Afternoon Club presided over by a flamboyant, doting peacock who used castanets to get our attention, young gentlemen and ladies were inaugurated into the finer points of life: how to bow, curtsy, waltz and fox trot. All while wearing uncomfortable shoes and clip-on ties.

It was the most miserable four weeks of my life. I hated it, thought it was ridiculous and did it only because I was forced to against my will by a parent hoping some good would come of it. Nothing a few years of therapy and a daily Xanax drip couldn’t cure. But long after the shameful mocking of my peers wore off, a few things of value did stick.

I know where to place my hands during a slow dance. I walk on the street side of the sidewalk when accompanied by a fair maiden. And I still hold the door open for a lady. And they appreciate it. Win-win situations are rare in this age, and this is an easy one.

It may be the elevator on a busy workday, the car door for wife, daughters or friends, or letting a lady walk in to Mario’s Deli ahead of you to take the ticket number that should have been yours. Hold the door open. You’ll be doing your part to make the world a slightly better place.

The greatest journeys, whether humanity's or our own, began with a single, small step. Open the door and let someone else take it.

PATRICK CANEDAY is running short of things to say. Friend him on Facebook. Read more at Contact him at

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