November 12 – Not-so-common Courtesy and Kindness

November 12. “He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” (Saint Basil)

When I was growing up, and even well into my adulthood, there was a phrase that was used frequently – “common courtesy”. People would refer to some action or another as just being part of this common courtesy. It was the minimum that a person would do for another, even a stranger. Simple things were included on the list like holding the door for the next person, picking up after oneself and so on. Lately I don’t hear that term nearly as much. Perhaps it just became a tired phrase and slipped out of the vernacular. Or maybe people don’t use it so much because they don’t observe it so much. Perhaps what was once common is now so un-common as to become remarkable.

I have been sitting here staring at my screen for a good 10 minutes thinking about what to write. A part of me wants to count off all the ways that I see people being uncommonly discourteous to one another on a daily basis; another part of my wants to hold in the reigns so that this doesn’t become a post written by a crabby old man yearning for some days past that he labels “the good old days.”

In my opinion, courtesy in society has become far less common than it was in decades past. So many are running at such a fast pace, that few take even the one or two seconds that would be required to just be nice to one another. A few examples come to mind:

  • When I am standing in line at the grocery store, or a discount store, and I have a full cart of items to buy, and someone comes up behind me with just one or two items, I will usually step aside and let them pass through ahead of me. This was once a very common practice. But judging by the odd looks I get when I do it, and by how infrequently it happens when the tables are turned, I would say this has become quite un-common.
  • I silence my phone when I am in a place where someone else will be talking to the group, or where a certain amount of quiet is a respectable thing to maintain. Examples would be Church, large meetings, and finer restaurants (honestly, in many of those circumstances I just leave my phone in the car). To me this is a very low level of common courtesy. When I forget to do this, and my phone goes off, I am fairly mortified. Judging by how often I hear catchy (or annoying) ring tones in such situations, it would seem that few share in my mortification.
  • When I am merging onto the freeway, I look to see what vehicles are coming in the lane to which I am merging. If there is a longer line, or if one of the cars or pickups looks to be pulling something heavy, I will let off the gas a bit and ease in behind them. This is actually something that should be a step down from courtesy, as it is what the law tells us to do. Judging by how often I’ve nearly been side-swiped by a blissfully unaware driver who is entering the freeway while I am pulling my camper, I would say that this is a forgotten concept to many.

Back when I was staring at the screen, I promised myself I would stop at 3 examples. So, I am stopping at 3 examples. The sad fact is that I could probably write for a few hours on all the examples of how people have become less courteous to one another.

Truth be told, I am certainly not perfect when it comes to these or other examples I may give. There are times when my phone does go off, when I am the one in a hurry and can’t let a person pass at the grocery store, and when I have mistakenly entered the freeway without noticing someone. Each time one of these things, or any other on the laundry list in my head occurs, I feel a pain inside me. I feel honestly, and physically bad about what I’ve done. I will hear the voice of my mother, my godmother or a past teacher echoing in my head, telling me that I should know better. (The mind is a funny thing, my mother and godmother would know nothing at all about driving courtesy because they never drove a car. And, neither of them ever owned a cell phone, so they wouldn’t have one go off in a public place. Yet, when it is me that makes those faux pas, it is their voices that I will sometimes hear.)

I certainly want more friendship and love in my life, and my guess is most other people do as well. Today’s quote tells me that when I act with, and sow courtesy, I will find more friendship; and that when I plant kindness I will gather more love.

Saint Basil died in the year 379 AD in Turkey. I wonder what things were happening over 1,600 years ago that made him comment that an increase in courtesy and kindness would be a good idea?

At the beginning of this post I said that I didn’t want it to become the rant of a crabby, old man. Instead I want to close with my own personal reflection on courtesy.

Today my reflection is on whether I am as courteous and kind as I would like to believe that I am. Would my daily actions really measure up well if the critical eyes of my ancestors were keeping tabs on me? Or, are there places in my life where I could use an increased dose of courtesy and kindness?

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