“May I pleases and yes you mays,
thank you ma’ams I learned to say…”
— Excerpt from “A Place I Call Home,”
an original Camp Alleghany Campfire song
written by alumna Katie Hudnall, 1995
Manners have always been an important part of life at Camp Alleghany for Girls. We say “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and other words of respect and kindness when interacting with one another just because it’s the right thing to do.
And it feels good, too.
It feels good to give and receive social niceties. And it creates a stronger community bond when each of us affirms one another’s humanity by looking each other in the eye, smiling, offering inclusion, hospitality, friendship, and the grace of cordial speech.
Alumnae my age and older will remember my grandmother, Franny, running a pretty tight ship at the Camp Store with requiring “May I please” before asking for a purchase and to our delight, her example continues today! Campers and counselors tell us that even outside of camp – in restaurants, for example – they will say “may I please” when ordering or asking for help. The habit carries beyond camp and has stuck with so many of us for our whole lives!
I know that our families already practice these things.
Campers come to us already used to speaking nicely to others and showing gratitude and high regard. In this way Camp Alleghany for Girls is a partner with families, upholding the values of esteem and politeness in all that we do, so that campers return to their families with those habits not only affirmed, but also strengthened.
How We Connect
I was sitting the other day in a moment of reflection and wondering about all our ‘Ghany Girls. It was so hard not to see all of you this summer, and we really miss you all!
That’s why when we put one camper’s —Roan’s — patch in the mail to all our 2020 campers, and we dropped in a postcard, I felt that goosebumpy feeling of sending a note in the mail.
It always feels so good to connect in person, or in a letter or note through the mail. All of which is such a contrast to how so much has gone online during the last decade.
Who would have imagined the explosion of social media, or of texts? It seemed like in an instant gone were the days of seeing a person’s face, or hearing their tone of voice to gather greater context about the conversation at hand. All of the sudden almost no one seemed to be in reach except electronically.
I’ve actually had parents half-seriously say to me about older kids, “The only way I can keep in contact is if I text!”
Then when the covid lockdown hit, even MORE things went online.
Soon kids were in school online, parents working online, alternative activities and events were online, family visits were by ZOOM, and all the social media and texts and emails continued at the same pace, too, or even increased since we were no longer seeing each other in school or work or church or clubs.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes this makes me want to pull my hair out.
And the worst thing of all? In good times and in bad one thing is for sure about electronic communications and that’s that manners very often are the first thing to go.
Politeness When No One is Looking
There’s now “ghosting,” and breaking up by text. There’s cyberbullying, cyber-shaming, and cyber-comparing. And then there’s the just plain quick-at-the-keyboard nasty text or email.
Who hasn’t gotten one of those?
I know for me that when I get an email where the other person seems to forgo human kindness, the benefit of the doubt, and basic human respect, that my mood can be destroyed for the rest of the day. It’s very hard to shrug off!
If it’s a particularly thorny issue, I can be dejected for days trying to figure out a way through the situation. (Though one of the best answers when things are that bad is for me to pick up the phone and try to talk it through that way, instead of sending more emails or texts.)
And sometimes an email or text is not that bad, but it’s still a little “off.” You’re not sure what to do or how to respond.
As teens or younger kids with access to such media — texts, social media, emails, and video interfaces — you (or your child) probably find(s) it hard, too, sometimes.
If there’s even the slightest whiff of some “mean girl” activity that you feel is being waged against you, that can be the worst. It’s isolating, scary, and so upsetting.
That’s why I encourage you to remember that you ALWAYS have your ‘Ghany Girl manners to fall back on. And you have your ‘Ghany Girl manners to lead with, even when no one is looking.
A ‘Ghany Girl’s Guide to Online
When you send texts, always think them through and ask how the other person will feel when receiving them. Is there any chance of being misunderstood? Are you texting in a mood of anger, suspicion, thoughtlessness, or just too much of a biting attitude?
Taking a moment to pause, to reflect, to consider your actions and words is ALWAYS a good thing in these situations — they are, after all, just texts. If it’s not life and death you DO have the time to wait, to give it time. That’s what a ‘Ghany Girl would do and it will serve you well your whole life to embrace that approach so that you don’t make any potentially bad situations even worse.
Same goes for email. Emails aren’t usually fired off so laser-fast as a text, but sometimes they are. But even if the medium seems different, the context is the same — you can’t see the person, you can’t project your tone of voice, the mood isn’t easily assessed.
For these reasons a ‘Ghany Girl should always begin her online interactions with friends, acquaintances, and school or work or sports or club associations by giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. Take a moment before firing back an email, even if their email seems hostile or bugs you in some way, to ask, “What could really be going on here? What is this person up against? How can I make this troubling/complicated/frustrating/weird situation better?
The more unsure you are, the better you’ll be served by waiting. You do not owe anyone an immediate answer (except maybe your mom texting, “Where are you, honey?”).
Time will always help you think things through, turn to your parents, an older sibling, or a wise and trusted friend for advice.
I always say that facing it head on on the phone, politely and kindly of course, or even better yet, in person, can help us stay on our best behavior and defuse a situation with the most ease and grace.
Now I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not always easy to make that call or knock on that door and say, “Hey, can we talk? I was concerned about the most recent email and I want to make sure we can work this out for both of us.”
But you can trust this — it does get easier once you practice pausing, thinking, reflecting, feeling, and then acting with calm and with poise.
On the other end of the text or email or social media post is an actual person, another human being. Friend or foe. They are a person and ‘Ghany Girls respect all people and shoot for the best in all interactions whenever possible.
Parents, too can act as ‘Ghany Girls in this time. Parents always act as role models for their daughters, but especially since we didn’t have camp this summer, and there’s so much more happening online, it’s a great time to bolster those manners with reminders and a conversation with your camper about what it means to be a ‘Ghany Girl.
Finding Common Ground
So during this l-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g-g- time of seemingly never ending closures, quarantines, and lockdowns when you’re all but forced to use e-media so much more, and when tensions are already high because of all this please…cut each other some slack.
Give the benefit of the doubt.
Take a moment to pause.
Remind yourself that you’re a ‘Ghany Girl* and you can be your best self for yourself, and to model that for others.
Reach out in kindness. Approach others on text and email and in social media posts and comments with a spirit of calm, of thoughtfulness, and the added sparkle of positive words like “please,” “thank you,” “glad to help,” “good luck,” “I’m rooting for you,” “prayers,” and other respectful and uplifting sentiments because remember, except on Zoom or Facetime, others can’t see you, hear your tone of voice, or pull together the entire context.
We’re all up against a lot right now, and each of us is up against our own things.
Let’s practice kindness and good manners. It doesn’t cost a thing, but yields happy rewards beyond our wildest imaginings.
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls
*If you want to learn more about the merits of sleepaway summer camp, download my FREE e-book, 3 Reasons to Begin Your Child’s Sleepaway Summer Camp Experience Early. It’s a great resource to share with friends, or if you are a first-time camp family and you wonder what sleepaway camp would be like for your child.