How about a little courtesy? Is that too much to ask in our every day lives? Not long ago, treating others kindly and acting in a courteous way was the norm. We didn't need reminders or any special training. We just did the right thing. Manners mattered. In today's hyper-busy culture it appears that courtesy has mostly gone the way of dinosaurs and the horse and buggy days.
There are times when I think that I am wrong to view things in this way. In recent weeks when the Boston Marathon was attacked there was a tremendous, immediate display of uncommon courtesy in the crowd, in spite of horrific chaos and the potential for follow-up devastation.
The first-responders sprang into immediate action and did what they do best, saving many lives. Of course, those actions are expected as part of the job, but so many individuals went above and beyond the call of duty.
I was especially impressed by countless stories of everyday people, for whom emergency response is not a vocation, moving into the fire and reaching out to the lives of fellow citizens, usually total strangers.
Shock-and-awe crisis moments can bring out the good in people who, in a blink of an eye, set aside differences and agendas and just reach out to those who are hurting and in need. That's courtesy at its best, and it should be celebrated.
After the news becomes old and people get back to daily routines and habits, the old patterns develop again. America experiences the same cycles throughout history. After 9/11, for a few short weeks, the country united in a patriotic way we hadn't experienced for years. Republicans and Democrats stood arm in arm on the Capitol steps and sang "God Bless America." When our country got up and got moving again, determined to not let the bad guys win, it was back to the same old political games and occasional character assassination. After lethal and tragic events, part of the healing process involves trying to get back to normal—as it should—but it would be nice if we learned some lasting lessons and got better at some things.
That brings me back to the issue of courtesy. What is it exactly?
The Oxford American Dictionary defines it as "courteous behavior" and "by permission of or favor of." The word courteous is noted as "polite." We don't see lots of that today, especially on our freeways.
Let's dig a little deeper. Synonyms for courtesy include: affability, amiability, chivalry, civility, comity, consideration, deference, elegance, familiarity, favor, friendliness, generosity, geniality, gentleness, good behavior, graciousness, kindness, sympathy and thoughtfulness.
Call me guilty here. That's a tough list, and it's hard to consistently measure up to it. Too often it's easier to let human nature get the best of situations and instead of courtesy we reflect more of the antonyms for the word: bad manners, impoliteness, pompousness, rudeness, incivility, disrespect, insolence and boorishness.
There are lots of big words there, and some fairly old-fashioned ones at that. The bottom line is, it's easier to do the opposite of being courteous. Reaching out to others takes work. And in today's world if you excel in discourteous behavior and put it in movies or television, someone will applaud you on the red carpet and maybe give you a shiny award for your edgy cleverness. Society champions the wrong attributes.
It's also easy to talk the talk without thinking of the definitions.
Sales people may make a "courtesy call" to a prospect. Others may say it's important to "extend common courtesy." Politicians may set aside personal beliefs and make a "courtesy vote" as a favor to a pal on the other side of the aisle. A friend may respond to one's attempt to make a joke with a "courtesy laugh," too.
None of this is a substitute for ongoing, deep and meaningful courtesy, having a consistent attitude that is always searching for opportunities to truly care about others.
Little things matter
Even the littlest things mean a lot and can make a positive difference. In our pop culture, too many have forgotten these principles or allowed over-packed schedules to push aside good old-fashioned manners and kindness. Incivility has become the norm. That's why it can feel so strange when something unusual happens and we suddenly notice people around us doing extremely good things, in spite of the bad. Besides, good is much more powerful than evil, thank God.
I want to believe that, at heart, we are still a courteous people who aren't too absorbed in 24/7 technology—and in ourselves—that we can't pause to see needs and do the right thing on a regular basis.
It shouldn't take a 9/11 or Boston story to pull us back to where we should be every day. Life is much more enjoyable and meaningful when we take the time for courtesy.
Get out of my way
I'm not sure where our culture began ignoring anything courteous, but I suspect it happened around the time cell phones became available everywhere. More bandwith, more applications on our phones, each leading to self-absorption.
iPhones, iPads. It's all the technology I use, too, and I will admit that sometimes I am so consumed by whatever it is that I am doing online that I forget courtesy as well. It doesn't make it right.
Lack of courtesy takes many forms, but more often it's more evident on the freeways. People cutting you off then reacting as if YOU were the offending party or my "favorite:" those folks, bless their hearts, who realize they're passing their exit. But they're in the No. 1 or center lane, so they speed across, left to right, cutting off cars in lanes 2, 3 and 4, endangering numerous lives, rather than being courteous enough to wait to for the next exit.
Yes, I think each day would be a little bit brighter, and more safe, if we all just try a little COURTESY today.
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talkshow airs mornings 6 to 9 on KCBQ 1170AM. Email: email@example.com.
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