Two ways to get down a river: Either you know where to go or where not to go

In the past several days, paradoxically commingled with the unsurpassable fortune of fine weather, I have had the equally indescribable misfortune to acquaint myself more fatally than intended with several people of unsettling behaviour. Though I have distressed myself sufficiently – and as a result repeatedly lapsed into the vernacular to express my perturbation – the beneficial outcome has been what I am certain is common knowledge to many; namely, there are two ways to get down a river: either you know where to go or where not to go.

This seemingly trite adage is critical to the avoidance of what might otherwise translate to a perilous conclusion if the reputed deviation from proper conduct were addressed head-on. A social cat fight is seldom a plausible answer in any similar circumstance. The recipe may be nothing more than “turning the page”; however, I prefer the riparian image and I find the metaphor accomplishes the hopeful relief of by-passing the behavioural obstacle. As my mentor the late Raymond A. Jamieson QC once opined, “Let the shit go down the street!” Admittedly the alternative attraction is dubious; but nonetheless I find it to be a useful direction.

The missing ingredient in this particular remedy is the more toxic possibility that the social irritant is targeted for revenge from which derives another popular maxim; namely, before setting off upon a journey of revenge, first dig two graves.

Why is revenge not worth it?
While you might feel hurt or betrayed right now, eventually you will be able to put those feelings behind you; but if you burden your conscience with guilt, you are more likely to ruminate over your actions – this makes moving on much harder and only puts your life on hold.

Although I am not unfamiliar with the Confucius recommendation, I have always succeeded to address the matter of revenge by imposing upon myself the insult of submitting to the urge in the first place; and – perhaps more importantly – the contradiction of what I esteem to be my personal ambitions.  “Be true to your school!” Or if you are more mystically inclined, “Unto thine own self be true!” Either way the imperative is the abandonment of the plea of social insult and ignominy; and, instead the advancement of one’s own beliefs of propriety.

Now I know as we venture into the arena of social etiquette, reflecting as it so often does the British Empire, I am not unaware that there is ample room within the discussion of social conflict for society’s own errors of judgement or mischievous pranks at the expense of others. But the etiquette of which I now speak is far more elemental and a good deal less amusing as a result. This etiquette is just plain good manners.

The peculiar thing about plain good manners is that everyone has them. There is nothing to study or to learn.  In fact if you haven’t already learned what constitutes plain good manners then it is very likely that you are in greater jeopardy than you now know; and, as a result, you have more important matters upon which to ruminate.

For those of us less constrained the remedy of stepping over the problem without revenge and just plain good manners is both preferable and ideal. Anything else conspires against it. Social remedy of this nature would never be likened to international foregathering or peace councils; yet one has to wonder by what measure or detail would things be any different? By contrast what I find more extraordinary is the proclivity to read about very public historic figures making the most utterly absurd decisions (normally driven by the thirst for power or greed for money). By some accounts it appears that the higher up one goes on the social ladder, the more preposterous are one’s oddities allowed. It is indeed a small compliment.