When I was a young Army Spouse a few decades ago, I was very fortunate to have seasoned, experienced Army Spouses share traditions and protocol, customs and courtesies, of the Army with me. It happened on 3 distinct occasion that I can recall. But it happened informally on countless other occasions when I watched and learned from some amazing senior Army Spouses.
There was also a great book called The Army Wife Handbook* that was a sort of encyclopedia of information on all things related to the topics listed above! It could be sort of intimidating to open a book like that. It was for me, anyway. I was sure that I’d find a thousand different ways I had bungled something I ‘should have’ done a certain way and had neglected to do. How demoralizing, how mortifying, how typical (for me).
What I came to realize in the subsequent years, as I became that seasoned, experienced Army Spouse, is that proper protocol and etiquette are not meant to frighten us, nor are they something to make us feel “all superior” to those who don’t know. Ironically, the very thing that stresses so many of us out is meant to help prepare us for upcoming events so everyone is edified on the standard operating procedure for each event. It’s to get us all “on the same sheet of music.” These things are intended to help us all know in advance what things will look like, or how we can help things look that way or just run more smoothly.
So much of etiquette is about being practical and always about being thoughtful. Thoughtful, not only in the modern sense of ‘she remembered to thank someone who helped her,’ but as in truly putting thought into an event or action beforehand so that everyone feels at ease and comfortable. That’s what I learned as I observed those amazing senior Spouses in my youth. Although I, at times, failed miserably, I was always trying. (Just a reminder that when you fail, it’s important to remember you tried your best. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and vow to do better the next time. Don’t beat yourself up about it. No one is perfect!)
The truly thoughtful are also the authentically kind. It is better, always, to choose kind. If being right would make another person feel embarrassed, sad, or upset in any way, you shouldn’t do it or say it.
Our main job in life is to show others what right looks like, to borrow an oft used Army phrase. ‘Right,’ in a social setting, is about kindness, compassion, and treating others as we want to be treated. It’s the timeless advice that never steers us in the wrong direction. It’s the Golden Rule that works every time.
*The Army Spouse Handbook is the new, revised for the 21st century version of this earlier edition! It can be found at www.armyspousehandbook.com if you are intrigued by this post. And I hope you are! (You may have to ‘copy and paste’ the link above!)
If you’ve viewed my Army Tradition and Why It Matters in the 21st Century YouTube video, you are probably going to find this book is a useful resource, a great ‘go to’ place for protocol and customs & courtesy questions! And even if you missed the video, if you are an Army Spouse, this book will be a help! Looking at the book as a whole could be daunting. I suggest you peruse the Table of Contents and then note what topics within each section would be the most useful to you in your current situation in Army Life.
The book is meant to support, NOT overwhelm! So don’t be intimidated like I was with the original book! Knowledge is power as it helps you to feel less unmoored and unprepared. Kind of like when you know your Soldier is going to deploy but no one tells you ‘when!’ I always felt better once the timeline was announced. Then I could make a plan and prepare myself and our family. The unknown is really the scariest. Our imaginations are often much more vivid and tend often to veer off in negative directions. Knowledge and preparation allow us to “keep calm and carry on!” (Full disclosure: I was one of the editors who was honored to work with a group of fabulous Army Sr. Spouses who helped Ann Crossley and Ginger Perkins edit The #ArmySpouseHandbook for a modern audience!)