Sweetheart Al and I were talking about a friend the other day and how completely we disagree with his politics but how very much we like him as a person.
He’s creative. He has great stories to tell. He and his wife are fun to be around. One of the reasons we like him so much is that he’s courteous.
And courtesy is often in short supply these days, isn’t it? From Capital Hill to the local street corner, courtesy has disappeared.
Actually, courtesy is so unusual that when someone displays it, you really notice. At least I do.
The "Please" and "Thank you," "Excuse me" and "I beg your pardon" that were drilled into me as a child seem to be relics of the distant past, like hula hoops or peddle pushers. Why is that? What banished courtesy from American society?
To tell the truth, I don’t remember when it disappeared. Perhaps it tiptoed out of the room so quietly that none of us noticed.
But courtesy, that gracious, respectful consideration toward others, seems as rare as white jade.
Is it because we’re so caught up in our own needs, our own wants, our own problems and confusions and disappointments and fears that we have nothing left for the others in our lives? Those others include everyone from our closest relatives to the checker at the grocery store, the clerk at the bank, the waitress or receptionist, our children’s teachers as well as the driver in front of us at the red light when it turns green.
In other words, have we all become so totally self-centered that we can no longer even practice courtesy?
Or did courtesy disappear when the information operator vanished? When we stopped interacting with real-live-people on the telephone, did we lose our ability to be polite? I mean, we can hang up on the phone tree woman or the taped voice on any number of telephone calls without really being rude to a human being. So maybe we’ve just forgotten that real people are different from tape-recorded voices.
Likewise, when we watch a video at home, there’s no problem with talking out loud, taking cell-phone calls and so on. So perhaps we just forget how to behave politely when we’re watching a film in a movie theater filled with strangers.
Or is the lack of courtesy an unintended consequence of the "I’m the most important person in my world" movement? The attitude of self-importance and entitlement is so common it makes me yawn.
Yet this attitude destroys the very thing most people want – respect and affection and acceptance from others, a sense of belonging.
Courtesy softens the rough edges of life. It slows human interactions a bit, giving us all the ability to breathe and acknowledge one another. And that acknowledgement often makes us feel good, whether we’re receiving it or extending it.
Courtesy forces us to focus on the other for once and that can get us out of the little jail cell of self-absorption for a few moments. And that often feels good too.
Whatever the cause of courtesy’s demise, it’s easy enough to restore. All we have to do is begin being polite to one another once again. In other words, a do-it-yourself restoration. Is that too difficult? I doubt it.