The Unimportant Differences

Vanderbilt, Amy

  • Amy Vanderbilt explains her awareness and appreciation of people, equality and friendship and describes how her son exemplified this in his disregard for race when meeting a lady on the bus.
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Amy Vanderbilt is an author. In private life, she is the wife of Hans Knopf, the well known magazine photographer. Formerly the president of her own public relations firm, she gave up this career six years ago in order to write her book, Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette. During the five years it took to write this volume, she also ran her own home in Westport, Connecticut, took care of her three sons, and wrote articles for national magazines. Here now is Amy Vanderbilt.
As long as I can remember, I have been bored with landscapes. I couldn’t look at a picture, a photograph, or a view with much interest, unless somewhere there were people or something that indicated they were there or soon would be.
I was long secretly ashamed of this limitation in me. I should have, I felt, been able to drink in the beauty of Mount Hood without stealing a connective glance at the outskirts of Portland. I should have been able to love the ocean, even when no ships rode low on the horizon to excite my speculations. But now, after half a lifetime of getting to know myself, I realize that there are too many of us who see the view and not the people humanizing it. My need for people in the picture has given me a fuller
understanding of life.
I believe I have something warm and good to give my children in my love of people. When my eldest son was a little boy, we were on a Fifth Avenue bus. He kept turning around to smile at someone I couldn’t see. When we got off, this person did too, and I saw that she was an elderly Negro. “Your little boy likes me,” she said with some surprise. “He don’t seem to notice any difference in me at all, like I was his own grandmother. How’s that?” “Because,” I replied, “he’s never been taught by the grownups around him that there is a difference.”
Children un-coached in prejudice and class consciousness enjoy people for what they are. As they
mature, our society soon sets them right, as to their place in it. More often than not, they accept this place without question, and thereby shut themselves off from warm human contact with many of their fellows. They become cocoon-like in their fear that reaching out beyond their own immediate social confines will place them in an untenable position.
It did take a certain courage, maturity, and sophistication to broaden my own circle to include people of other races, nationalities, and religions on the same terms as those born into my own little place in the world. But in doing so, I lost my fear of those different from myself in some way God chose to make them. As friendship became possible, differences seemed very unimportant. I think I’ve learned to
accept the differences as an interesting part of my new friends’ personalities, not something to be feared, tactfully ignored, or excused.
I shall never forget my first lonely schoolgirl days abroad before I learned to speak French. I was entirely surrounded by the majestic beauty of the Alps, but I could not speak a word to the people, nor they to me. But within a few months, through the miracle of language, people came into the picture for me. It was the beginning of my understanding that the greatest natural beauty is for me, at least, comprehensible only through living contact with people of all kinds who share the view.
That was Amy Vanderbilt of Westport, Connecticut, whose book on etiquette has become a bestseller.