Our extended family had gathered in the afternoon to celebrate our grandson’s First Communion. We were sitting at the dining table talking when a woman noticed that I was wearing cuff links. She complimented me and another woman said she wished more men would dress up for special occasions. Yet another agreed and commented, “Old school—very nice!” Having more often heard that phrase used negatively, it was refreshing to hear it used positively.
Prior to this event, Linda and I had laughed with a great deal of understanding while watching the movie The Intern, in which Robert DeNiro’s character, Ben, a 70-year-old widower, enters the world of a startup company run by twenty-somethings. He wears a suit and tie, carries a handkerchief and an attaché case, writes with a pen and is observant. His demeanor is that of a seasoned professional. In contrast, the young people in this company are dressed for leisure and talk “tech.” Women ignore a messy desk and they don’t think to help each other. And the men are awkward in relating to women. As a whole the employees were disconnected, separated by technology. Their bicycling boss, Jules, played by Anne Hathaway, finds a kindred spirit in Ben because she, like him, pays attention to detail. Ultimately Ben empowers Jules to change her mind about hiring a CEO, deciding instead to assume the position herself.
In this movie we witnessed the contrast between the values of contemporary popular culture and those of an earlier generation. Generally, as I see it—and my bias is decidedly old school—the difference is between professional or formal and casual or informal. Examples in the workplace include employees in restaurants and other public places preferring to engage with their fellow employees when they should be paying attention to customers, employees who have little or no knowledge of the products they sell or even the company they work for and when a customer comes to them with a problem they become defensive. One of the principles of interpersonal communication is that attitudes and behaviors are communicable, that is, they are easily, if unconsciously, passed on and replicated. We not only pick up on the feelings of those around us, we formulate impressions, have prejudices reinforced and make assumptions about people and life in general based on them. At times everyday displays of laziness, ignorance, carelessness, boredom or dissatisfaction, when compounded can contribute to weltschmerz, a German word meaning “sadness for the world.” In contrast, when we observe confidence, intelligence, caring or enthusiasm—qualities frequently associated with more formal and professional attitudes, dress, manners and behaviors—we are encouraged. The phrase, “the dignity of man” is so old school there probably aren’t many young people who have even heard it spoken. Nonetheless, the qualities of personality refinement, moral-ethical behavior, dress and manners appropriate to the occasion, respectful and intelligent speech are all markers of self-respect and dignity.
I have very clear memories of my mother instructing my sister and me on manners, not just once, but as a pattern that persisted into high school. She showed us how to hold our forks and spoons gracefully, not like a shovel. She laid out place settings so we would know the functions of every utensil and where they belonged. I was to hold the door for a woman or girl, stand when she entered the room, walk on the outside of a sidewalk from her, look a girl in the eye when talking, speak in terms of their interests and dance with as many girls as possible, especially those not being asked by other boys. She even did role playing with me so I would know how to approach a girl I didn’t know. I knew how to ask a girl to dance, thank her afterward and return her to where she had been sitting. I never went on a date without a coat and tie, never cursed no matter what the circumstances and after escorting my date to the door I complimented her in some way, said I had a good time and thanked her for going out with me. Initially, these lessons in manners and “proper” behavior were awkward. But it didn’t take long for me to realize what a god-send they were.
And my mother’s training carried into the workplace. Professionalism—being punctual, representing company values in dress and behavior and having a positive, can-do attitude, focusing on the task at hand, avoiding vulgar language, following through on commitments, considering other people’s points of view and collaborating. These were attitudes and values that my parents inherited from previous generations, sustained because they worked. When I look around and see young people struggling to be accepted and suffering the consequences of substance abuse due to low self-esteem, insecurity and identity issues, I can’t help but appreciate that my parents instilled in my sister and me the values of respect, manners, dignity, order, responsibility and consideration for others. Also a major influence for putting these into practice was my father, who modeled them perfectly. Now, whenever I hear someone refer to something as “old school,” I will think to myself, “Yes, good parenting.”
Here’s an excellent example of old school thinking and practice in the modern world. As I was arranging this shot by the side of the road, a white-bearded Amish farmer pulled his buggy over and asked if I liked the look of the field. I said I did and he explained that they cut and arranged the wheat into “shocks” this way so the kernels could dry. He said tall-stacking would take less work, but the Amish preferred to do it this way “because it’s beautiful.”
I’m old-school. I want to be there to drop off my daughter at school and pick her up.
I’m not trying to be new school and I’m not old school – I’m classic. There’s a lot of new cars and there’s a lot of old cars, but I’m just classic in doing what I do.
LL Cool J
ABOUT THE IMAGES
I came upon the image of the starched collar and bow tie at an antique fair. Not much to it. Point and shoot.
Regarding the wheat shocks: The only access to get a close-in shot of the shocks was on a busy highway. I pulled the car over as far as I could and was working with the settings on the view camera when an Amish horse and buggy pulled up behind me. In spite of cars and trucks whizzing by, the farmer came over and we had a fine conversation. As I usually try to do when shooting black and white, I took a color shot as well. This image was scanned from a 35mm slide.