Beyond Brushstrokes

The whole world has been rushing forward at a dizzying speed for decades. There was a mad rush to meet deadlines, to accomplish goals, to achieve. A year ago, the spinning suddenly slowed down due to extreme natural disasters and the pandemic. The frenetic movement forward shifted. It became a confusing downward spiral. Every day has been hazy, uncertain and anxiety-ridden. Confinement and a loss of activity stretched from weeks to months. And during the downtime, there is quiet time for reflection and evaluation.

No matter what the environment is, there are essential values that still matter. Kindness, courtesy, gratefulness, considerateness, compassion, and, for those in a position of power and means — noblesse oblige. One observes that some of these traits are sadly missing among the younger generation. The “I, me, myself” attitude of entitlement prevails in pockets of society. Thinking about others seems to have been forgotten or discarded. Courtesy and thoughtfulness belonged to the bygone era of gentility.

During the pre-pandemic times, some bratty sons and pampered daughters of affluent families mistakenly thought that the world was at their feet and that their good fortune was meant only for their personal enjoyment. Others believed that they could flaunt their new wealth, recently acquired by instant success, power, fame. One could see the acquisitions, toys, and frivolity in social media. This was not “PC” (politically correct) and it can never be cool.

In the context of the lingering crisis, it would be totally insensitive and crass. Despite the current depressed mood, some characters still manage to surface from the blues to make and to poke fun. It is fine to have some enjoyment but one need not overemphasize it. A touch of discretion is part of being considerate to others — especially to those who are not doing well and have lost their income.

Mark Twain once wrote, “Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and little we think of the other person.”

Some formerly obscure individuals who suddenly attained a degree of success and prominence began to act pompous. They lacked good manners and they strutted around, acting condescending towards others. In their self-serving inflated opinion, these snobs considered anybody who was relatively low key, less popular, and less affluent — beneath them. This attitude and manner was seen in how they treated the employees and service staff.

On the lighter side, it is heartwarming to see a few young gentlemen still acting as gallant escorts — opening doors and pulling chairs for ladies — their grandmothers and girlfriends. They are well-mannered, courteous members of the “old school.” They have been raised well by their parents. Alas, the genteel era of courtliness seems to have vanished in the past century.

On another level, guts is a quality the people equate with courage and confuse with toughness. To define it, Dorothy Parker asked the celebrated author Ernest Hemingway what he meant by “guts.” The writer replied, “Grace under pressure.”

We see this trait among good leaders, exceptional men and women who can carry on and forge ahead during a crisis. They are resilient, strong, persevering — despite the odds. They always think of what is good for others, and not just their own personal interests. They are tough but not rough.

Gaston Pierre Marc, Duc de Levis (1764-1830) came up with the idea “noblesse oblige.” Nobility obliges. “Those of high rank must be noble, gallant and responsible.” He wrote in Maxims and Reflections: “When one comes from an illustrious family, one must teach his children that, if the public is willing to honor in them the merit of their parents, he expects to find traces in their descendants: nobility obliges.”

In this cyber age, the self-centered, impatient, abrupt super-achiever counts speed, convenience and efficiency. Everything — goals and deadlines — is crammed and compressed. Noblesse oblige is considered archaic. However, it is an essential quality of life. Kind words and thoughtful gestures are always valuable and appreciated.

In the context of the current distressed and critical situation, life has been very difficult. However, big corporations are helping the economy by donating essential goods and medicines, by reducing rent, sponsoring scholarship grants, and by working with the underprivileged youth and children through special projects in community livelihood programs. Corporate social responsibility continues, albeit in a drastically reduced way due to the adverse business conditions. Cost cutting has affected the giving of grants in terms of quantity but not necessarily quality.

In medieval times and throughout the centuries, it had been an unwritten code among aristocrats and the rich benefactors to provide for their loyal subjects and workers.

This is the spirit of generosity and sharing that is the basis of “other-ness.”

The magnanimous tradition of helping the less fortunate is definitely relevant in today’s environment. It is a way of being grateful and sharing blessings.


Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.