Gracious by Kelly Williams Brown

The heart of graciousness is compassion. It’s attention to those around you, whether they are your favorite person in the world or that person trying to get by you on the sidewalk. It’s kindness, and most of all, it’s giving love to those around you.”

Cover image of Gracious

What does it mean to be gracious? It’s more than just manners, although they are related (and manners, as any Emily Post devotee knows, is more about making people feel at ease than about using the right fork).

In her new book, Louisiana native Kelly Williams Brown expounds on the topic, largely by asking gracious people for their advice, worldview, philosophy, and practical tips (e.g. what to have on hand should guests drop by).

Graciousness flows from the recognition that “Every human is just as human as you are. …Though it is very (very) easy to assume otherwise, each person you will ever encounter is just as much in their own head as you are in yours.” Graciousness is “assigning and extending humanity to everyone you meet.” It is about “facing the world with kindness and compassion.”

Brown asks, “How do you live a life in which kindness and assurance, instead of anxiety and irritation, are the emotional guideposts?” And if you weren’t already interested in becoming more gracious, that might be the question that gets you interested – because who wouldn’t rather be assured than anxious, kind than irritated? Being irritated is, well, irritating. The occasional burst of righteous outrage can be satisfying, but as a constant mode of operation, it’s stressful and tiring. Wouldn’t it be more pleasant to navigate the choppy waters of life as calmly and smoothly as a steamship? (Steamships, incidentally, are Brown’s favorite style of transportation. Those who dislike flying will really enjoy her section on air travel.)

“We decide, every moment, who we shall be and what we are going to add into the world with our words and actions or lack thereof.”

As a librarian who works at a public service desk, I have many opportunities every day to practice being helpful, kind, patient, and gracious. (I say practice, because of course, I am not always all of these things.) I have a lot of practice giving people the benefit of the doubt – imagining what might be going on in their lives to explain why they are behaving a certain way right now – and practicing compassion and calm.

Brown’s section on customer service is quite good, no matter which side of the desk you’re on (and most of us have experience on both sides). She advises, “Try thinking about every relationship, no matter how brief, as an ‘us.'” What moves “us” forward? Think about the other person’s needs as well as your own, and you’re more likely to reach a conclusion that satisfies you both.

“Graciousness is about focused attention, kindness, and empathy and about moving deliberately in accordance with your values.”

In addition to being full of wisdom – both philosophical and practical – on being gracious, Brown’s book is written in a close, conversational, and often very funny way. It’s clear that she is interviewing these women (they are mostly women) because she aspires to be as gracious as she perceives them to be. As one of Brown’s subjects said, “Maybe we’re just going through life to come out on the other side with compassion.”

 

Why the IMLS and LSTA grants are important

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and its Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants are vitally important to museums and libraries in every state. If you’re hazy on what IMLS does, please read my fellow librarian blogger’s post, “Save IMLS because libraries are essential,” in which she gives examples of many LSTA grants and argues eloquently for saving the IMLS.

Why does the IMLS need saving? It is one of the agencies that would be entirely cut under Trump’s budget proposal, along with PBS. (In case you aren’t already fervently in favor of preserving Sesame Street, read retired general Stanley McChrystal’s op-ed in favor of PBS in The New York Times.) For a quick analysis of the federal budget, current and proposed, check out Hank Green’s five-minute video, “Trump’s Budget Explained.”

 

Quotes from books, part VI

This batch of quotes is from books I read between April and August 2016. The tenth quote was hard to choose because nearly every sentence in The Gap of Time was so knockout beautiful.

  1.  “Mostly I’m just trying to get it right, whatever that means.”The Truth About Forever, Sarah Dessen
  2.  But, of course, the hardest shells hid the most fragile selves. The Expatriates, Janice Y.K. Lee
  3.  He made a whole city full of windows. -Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson
  4.  “You can’t compare one person’s coping capacity to another, hon.”The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater
  5.  He considered how memories hold our lives in place but weigh nothing and cannot be seen or touched.Father’s Day, Simon Van Booy
  6.  “And fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gift of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.”The View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction, Neil Gaiman
  7.  There are pockets of time, she thinks, where every sense rings like a bell, where the world brims with fleeting grace.The Last Painting of Sara De Vos, Dominic Smith
  8.  Unlike the world of technology, where rapid innovation produces improvements, innovation in fashion just produces arbitrary stylistic changes. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth Cline
  9.  It’s impossible, what I’m trying to do. To say good-bye without telling them I’m leaving.Imagine Me Gone, Adam HaslettCover image of The Gap of Time
  10.  Forgiveness is a word like tiger – there’s footage of it and verifiably it exists but few of us have seen it close and wild or known it for what it is. The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson

Quotes from books, Part V

Continuing my series of quotes from books I’ve read semi-recently (this batch is November 2015-April 2016), originally inspired by The Broke and the Bookish and Three Good Rats. Here are quotes from three YA novels, three nonfiction books, one etiquette book, one book of essays, and two adult novels.

  1.  “When it comes to controlling human beings there is no better instrument than lies.” 
    1. b. “Oh, the world is full of things you don’t see.”The Neverending Story, Michael Ende
  2.  “Peace is joy at rest, and joy is peace on its feet.” –Small Victories, Anne Lamott
  3.  “It is surely a premise of democracy that the rules apply equally to everyone.” –Common Courtesy, Judith Martin
  4.  “The big problem doesn’t lie in differences between what men and women want out of life and love. The big problem is how hard it is to achieve equal relationships in a society whose work policies, school schedules, and social programs were constructed on the assumption that male breadwinner families would always be the norm.” –Marriage, a History, Stephanie Coontz
  5. “When you don’t know what made someone leave once, you also don’t know what might make him do it again.” –Conviction, Kelly Loy Gilbert
  6.   “The biggest difference between boys and girls is how people treat them.”None of the Above, I.W. Gregorio
  7.  “What redemption there is in being loved: we are always our best selves when loved by another. Nothing can replace this.” –This Must Be the Place, Maggie O’Farrell
  8.  “God is a human invention.”Gretel and the Dark, Eliza Granville
  9.  “We can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point….We might call this the “rubber band theory” of personality….We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.” –Quiet, Susan Cain
  10.  “The first rule of a successful getaway is not to look as if you’re trying to get away.” –A Burglar’s Guide to the City, Geoff Manaugh

Previously:

Part I (August-November 2015)

Part II (June-September 2015)

Part III (January-June 2015)

Part IV (some all-time favorites, no particular order)

Quotes from books, IV

After more than a year, I’m picking this up again (see Part III here, with links to Parts I & II). The quotes below are some of my longtime favorites.

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It occurs to her that there is one thing about people you can never understand well enough: how entirely inside themselves they are.Pigs in Heaven, Barbara Kingsolver

She’ll be okay without me, I think as I watch her, but I know that she will not. –The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

“I love my children. No one will tell you otherwise, but just between the two of us I have to say I admire you for not having any. The ways they break your heart, Jesus, and it never stops. I mean it, it simply does not stop.” –The Magician’s Assistant, Ann Patchett

People had their natural habitats, after all, demarcated not in ecologies but in ages. He’d been perfectly adapted to being nineteen, and she was better at being thirty-two. –Gold, Chris Cleave

The shelves were supposed to be loaded with books – but they were, of course, really doors….A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination….They are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead. -“Alma Mater,” Caitlin Moran (anthologized in The Library Book)

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Arlington Reads Together: Becoming Nicole

Last fall, I was on the selection committee that chose Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt as the 2017 Arlington Reads Together book. Last Saturday, I got to be in the audience to hear Nicole herself, and her father Wayne, speak to the Arlington community for the A.R.T. kickoff event in our beautiful old Town Hall building.

In the weeks leading up to this event, as we have had library displays announcing the book and the related programs this month, I have been pleasantly surprised how many people have shown so much enthusiasm for the book and for the topic. (Transgender issues, unfortunately, have been in the news again lately as the federal government has just revoked protections for transgender students in public schools to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.)

I encourage everyone to read Becoming Nicole, if you haven’t already. My brief review and quotes from the book from when I read it last year are on LibraryThing; I’ll use this space to recap the event.

Nicole’s talk emphasized the need to educate people on transgender issues. When kids know what “transgender” means, they are less likely to bully other trans students; when adults know, they are more likely to support trans people’s rights. She called the recent rollback of federal protections for trans students an “unnecessary backward step” because “people don’t put a face to the trans movement. Who actually is this affecting?” In the Q&A after the talk, Nicole said, “It’s harder to marginalize a human being than a foreign idea.”

Nicole also emphasized the importance of education because “kids know their gender identity early….Parents need to get on board early so kids can get medical treatment.” She spoke about “the importance of having adults support you”; her mother Kelly supported her from the beginning, and her father Wayne eventually got on board as well. Her elementary school supported her at first, but later things deteriorated to the point where the Maines family had to move. Nicole also mentioned Camp Aranu’tiq as a wonderful, inclusive summer camp experience for trans kids.

Though Nicole and Wayne appreciated the supportive Arlington audience, Nicole said, “We can’t keep preaching to the choir”; we have to have conversations with people who don’t understand. “The people in power don’t get it, and they need to.”

During the Q&A, one preschool teacher and one middle school teacher asked for advice. For the preschool teacher, Nicole suggested specific books (including I Am Jazz; there is also Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen), and suggested not enforcing a gender binary (e.g. allowing children to play with any toys in the classroom, not identifying some as “girls’ toys” and some as “boys’ toys”). She mentioned the need to educate parents as well, though she acknowledged the balancing act that might take. For the high school teacher, she said that being available for students to come talk to is important.

This was a wonderful event, and we were so lucky to hear directly from Wayne and Nicole, who were both well-prepared, entertaining, sympathetic, and humorous speakers. You can see photos of the event (taken by librarian/photographer Rob Lorino) on the library blog.

“What is fake news?” informational pamphlet

People from several libraries have asked if they can use the “What is fake news?” pamphlet that I created to go with my library’s January display on this topic. The answer is yes, please feel free to use and share it! I made a new version with a Creative Commons license instead of my library’s logo: 2017-01-fakenewsbrochure-update-2017-03

Indiana University created a helpful LibGuide about fake news as well. If you have similar materials to share, please do. Information literacy and news literacy are more important now than ever.