Continuing our exploration of what it means to live a life that is full of love, this week we’ll examine another attribute of love – courtesy.
Saint Basil is credit with saying:
“He who sows courtesy, reaps friendship
and he who sows kindness, gathers love.”
Since we’ve spoken before of kindness and, to some extent, love, let’s take a look at the first part of this quote – courtesy.
Courtesy is defined as:
- Polite behavior
- A polite gesture or remark
- Willingness or generosity in providing something needed
- Given or done as a polite gesture
Further definitions include, “the act of showing regard for others (politeness)” and “a courteous, respectful, or courteous act.”
To me, these can all be summarized in one word – manners.
Do Manners Still Matter?
Yes, I know, talking about manners, i.e. courtesy, for some, will seem out-dated and old fashioned. I believe that this is exactly the issue. We, as a society, no longer place value on manners or common courtesy. In fact, most of us have heard the phrase, “if courtesy is so common, how come so few people seem to have it?”
I’m not talking about knowing which fork to use at a formal dinner party, or whether to serve from the right and clear from the left or vice verse. There are plenty of books on etiquette to answer these questions. I’m talking about showing respect, treating others with kindness. Unfortunately, because we no longer place value on manners, we no longer teach them to our children.
Think about it for a minute. When was the last time you received a Thank You card – or, for that matter, sent one? When was the last time you saw someone stand to offer his or her seat to a person more advanced in years? Have you tried to pull into or out of a drive-way when a young person is walking by? Do they pick up their pace? No. In fact, if anything, they seem to slow down. With our “me first” attitudes, drivers are more and more aggressive – speeding around you, making obscene gestures, racing to get into that parking place you had been patiently waiting for. We no longer say “please,” “thank you,” “yes ma’am,” or “no sir.” Instead, we hear, or utter, “uh-huh” and “un-uh.”
And, quite honestly, it’s our own fault. We no longer teach our children the value of respect or common courtesy. Many of us have, ourselves, moved quite far from the lessons taught to us. Just listen to conversations of teenagers today. The level of vulgarity would make a sailor sound like a choir boy. But, when you listen also to their parents – their language, and in many cases, the way they act, is no better. Showing courtesy is something that is, and can be, learned. Conversely, being discourteous, rude, and vulgar is also taught and learned.
When I was a young teenager, an uncle of mine had a stereo system he knew I liked. He offered it to me on one condition – I was never to call him “uncle” again. I wanted that stereo. But, I politely declined. When asked why, I replied, “because I value sitting down.” I was raised to respect others, especially my elders, because it was right and proper. I would no more have called my uncle by his first name than I would have called my father by any “name” other than Dad or Pop. Calling my dad Ben would simply never have occurred to me.
To give an example of how our society has changed, and courtesy has been minimized – I was told by one young man that he does not say “sir,” or “ma’am”; nor does he go out of his way to show courtesy or respect to anyone until the person demonstrates they are deserving of it. The onus, according to this young man, is on the other person. Basically, instead of “innocent until proven guilty,” this young man preferred “guilty until proven innocent.”
While it is true that respect is something earned not forced, it’s also true that we should be demonstrating courtesy and respect at every opportunity – simply because it’s the right thing to do. In trying to live as Christ lived – loving others even as He loves us – we can turn to 1 Peter 2:17: “Honor all people.” Or, to put it another way, show respect to everyone. It doesn’t matter if they have done anything to “deserve” it. We should be courteous simply because it’s the right thing to do.
Another example of the “me first” pervasiveness is a situation that occurred while driving. I was on a street with very heavy stop and go traffic due to road work. The line of cars I was in would stop, creep forward, only to stop again.
As I was sitting in this line, I noticed that up ahead there was a car sitting in a driveway, waiting patiently to pull out into the flow of traffic. That driver sat there as, time and time again, traffic moved and stopped, with no one letting him in. As I approached the driveway, traffic again came to a stop. When it began to move again, I remained still and motioned for the driver to pull in. He waved in gesture of gratitude, pulled in front of me, and we moved on. Instantly, the blaring of horns came blasting from behind me. Evidently, I hadn’t moved quite fast enough for the drivers behind me and they starting honking horns and flashing obscene hand gestures. I remember thinking, “wow, haven’t you ever been stuck in a driveway and no one would let you in?” These drivers, honking and gesturing at me, are the very same drivers who would be fuming at the lack of courtesy when they are the ones that are stuck, waiting for some kind soul to let them in.
Even worse, in my opinion, is the fact that there were children in the car. So, by his actions, this father was teaching those very same behaviors and attitudes to his children. I wonder, will he be surprised when his children begin driving and they end up being just as aggressive and discourteous? Sad to say, I doubt he’ll even notice.
A final example shows just how far we’ve come, and how even the simplest of acts can be misconstrued. When I’m going through a door into a store, office, restaurant, etc., I try to look behind me to see if anyone might be close by. If so, I hold the door for them rather than have it slam in their face. One time, I noticed a lady behind me, so I held the door for her. She became agitated, and barked, “I can open a door for myself.” I wonder – have we really come so far that a simple gesture of courtesy would be viewed as demeaning – somehow implying she was “weaker” and in need of someone to open her door? Why can’t we simply accept the gesture for what it is, without layering on our own preconceived notions.
Does Courtesy Even Matter?
Given the prevailing attitudes and seeming lack of courtesy, one has to wonder if courtesy, or good manners, even still matter. I say, “yes!” – if for no other reason than the Golden Rule. Almost everyone can recite it from memory – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Most, however, don’t realize that this is actually a passage from the Gospels. Luke 6:31 says it this way: “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”
Showing courtesy is one way in which we can find opportunities to demonstrate small acts of kindness. Contrary to what the young man who told me he gives no one respect until they’ve earned it in his eyes may feel; these acts are the ways in which we demonstrate God working in our lives. It matters not how others will react. What matters is, as we discussed last week, the act of DOING.
One lesson I tried to teach my children is that we are not responsible for the actions or behaviors of others. We are, however, 100% responsible for how we choose to respond to them. The converse is also true. We are 100% responsible for our own actions. We are not, however, responsible for how others choose to react. For this reason, I will continue holding doors for those behind me, letting drivers pull into traffic, saying “yes sir” and “no ma’am.” And, even though I’m 50 years old, I will continue to use terms such as Aunt and Uncle when speaking about and to my parent’s brothers and sisters. Not because of some threat from my dad, but because it’s the right thing to do.
It is true that, by and large, common courtesy may seem to be a thing of the past. But, it doesn’t have to be. If we would like to see a difference in the emerging generations, perhaps we need to do some self examination. Are our actions and our words those that we’d like to teach and to have emulated?
There’s a wonderful country song that illustrates the point. It’s called “Watching You” by Rodney Atkins. In the song, Dad is driving along with his young son in his booster seat. The boy is eating his Happy Meal. The light changes, Dad hits the breaks, the fries go flying and the soda ends up covering the boy’s lap. Dad mumbles under his breath, and the boy lets out a four letter word that begins with “S.” Dad says, “Son, now where’d you learn to talk like that?” and the boy responds, “I’ve been watching you, Dad, ain’t that cool? I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you.”
Truer words have never been spoken. We are the models our children will follow. Yes, even up until his death, my dad referred to his parent’s brothers and sisters as Aunt and Uncle. If we want our children to be kind, courteous, and respectful, we, ourselves, must first model that behavior. It is by demonstrating acts of kindness that we demonstrate love. Common courtesy, or manners, is one way in which we can find opportunities to be kind, compassionate, and loving. As Ephesians 4:32 reminds us, “…be kind to one another, tenderhearted (compassionate), forgiving one another…”
These acts don’t have to be grand gestures. I invite you to find opportunities – write those thank you cards, be polite, limit or eliminate the use of vulgarity, hold doors for folks, offer your seat to others, and build others up when you can. It really is that simple. All it means is stepping out of the “it’s all about me” and putting someone else and his or her needs above our own. Just as Philippians 2:4 reminds us, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
- 1 Peter 2:17
- Luke 6:31
- Ephesians 4:32
- Philippians 2:4
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