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Dr. Magryta: Southern hospitality and choice

Southern hospitality is a phrase used in American English to describe the stereotype of residents of the Southern United States as particularly warm, sweet, and welcoming to visitors to their homes, or to the South in general (wikipedia).

When I moved south in 1992, I was struck by the perceived truth of this definition. Coming from the antithetically-behaving northern state of New York, I had a profound sense of happiness surrounded by people that chose to smile more than they frown. This was a wonderful development in my life at age 21.

At the time I did not think much about this contrast, but over the years I have spent time pondering the desire for a whole culture or group to behave very differently than another.

Psychologists call it a culture of honor, which makes the South very similar to Japan in that way. Honor is revered, and being polite was thought to reduce any risk of offending another’s honor. This was believed to reduce conflict if practiced correctly. Statistically, the homicide rate is the highest in the South currently, so clearly this belief did not pan out over time.

I have many Northern friends that believe that the “tell you how I feel attitude” is preferable to a “fake smile to my face while I backstab you” type. They like to know where they stand with others.

What I have gleaned from my years of living in both areas for extended periods of time and from what I have read is this: (just my opinion)

First, I love the polite day-to-day attitude of Southerners and I actively teach my children to be polite always. This just makes common sense. Why would one not want to meet pleasant people routinely?

Second, the reality is that the Southern homicide statistics likely have more to do with poverty than attitudes of honor. Anyone living in a large city like Chicago can attest to this reality.

Third, I personally feel like it takes a lot less energy to be nice to everyone. If I dislike someone, I politely extricate myself from the environment and move on to things that fill my happiness well.

Life is too short to waste on people that are selfish, greedy or down right judgemental. However, I can find no reason to be rude to this person. If they offend, I politely let them know that I no longer wish to be around them, period. Message sent. The absence of my time sends the message loud and clear.

However, if this person is a coworker or teammate, I readjust my philosophy to attempt to find their good side and love them anyway so as to help them grow, thereby reducing my stress. I know not where they came from, making judgement difficult and unnecessary.

Fourth, anyone that believes that an attitude of wearing your feelings on your sleeve and offending others will foster a better culture, has yet to prove it in society.

Fifth, while I may disagree with someone’s view on life, it is their view and should be allowed to exist. The freedom to speak is critical to a well-functioning society. Words are just that — words.

Again, I reiterate that I believe that we are better off not voicing every thought that we have because it can hurt another’s feelings and serves little purpose to help society, or yourself.

Finally, in an amalgam of true Southern Hospitality, Christ’s teachings and Stoicism may go a long way toward a happier society that is not offensive or offended easily. Marcus Aurelius of ancient Rome was a Stoic belief follower, and had a few quotes that I share with my children often:

• Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.

• If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

• Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live.

These statements are truth. We all know it. Living it is an entirely other matter. People are too easily offended, too easily critical, too easily judgmental and too easily self righteous.

Teach your children simple rules of how to interact with others at a very young age.

1) Smile as much as possible, because you can.

2) Reject your sense of self injury through choice, then rise above and be happy.

3) Learn to interact with all children with honor regardless of their attitude. In time you can focus your energies on those that you gain much from, while being nice to all.

4) You have the power to make any decision that you choose.

5) Do not worry about others thoughts and beliefs. Be yourself and true to your soul.

6) Give away your best side often and you will feel true joy.

Be well,

Dr. Chris Magryta is a physician at Salisbury Pediatric Associates. Contact him at newsletter@salisburypediatrics.com

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