What Happened to Common Courtesy?


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Let’s face it. We live in a world which calls for its inhabitants to get things quickly. Need an answer fast, check the internet. Need your food now, go to a drive-thru. Don’t have time to call someone, text them. There is nothing wrong with these things. But, somewhere along the line of adapting to a fast-paced culture, we’ve lost sight of common courtesy. It’s a “me” culture for us. How can I get mine? What’s in it for me? What does that say about the world we’re living in right now?

Common courtesy used to mean slowing down enough to say “please” and “thank you.” It was once an accepted social norm we learned as kids, and this ability to practice common courtesy follows us into our older lives where we could pass on this habit to the young people coming up. However, nowadays, the words “courtesy” and “respect” seem to be applied only to those we deem worthy of receiving our “courtesy” and “respect.” When we feel disrespected, we may feel to need to retaliate by being equally rude to someone who we feel didn’t give us our props. This petty jealousy created in one’s mind perpetuates itself in every aspect of our daily lives and culture. Pick up a newspaper or turn on the television or check out online news and there’s always someone who feels they were “disrespected” by someone. When courtesy fails, it causes us not to have consideration of others.

We see the lack of consideration for others in many places. Gone are the days when you speak to someone with the goal of collaboration. Nowadays, it’s, “Hey, I need this; what are you going to do about it?” I guess it’s the informality emails and texts have bred which cause the concern. We’re so used to one-word responses that it feels normal to answer “yes” or “no.” However, what feels right to you might not feel right to the person on the other end. Communication is a two-way street. If someone takes the time to ask you a well-constructed question, and the only way you know how to answer is by replying a one-word answer, the social commitment of courtesy breaks down. It’s disappointing when you ask for support, but only get help when someone needs something.

I was watching a sports talk show the other day, and one of the commentators went on a rant about a current player and the current player’s habits. During this exchange of “ideas,” the broadcaster said he wouldn’t want to be on a team with the player in question. It was sad. Now, granted, the player in question made some choices, not in line with courtesy himself, but to have someone go on national TV and call you out for a decision you don’t agree with is unnecessary. Look, I know it’s your job to point out the obvious, but do we have to be so vicious? How does that help teach people to honor and respect and treat people with dignity? I don’t know.

I’ve seen people in a professional environment be rude and discourteous. “Hey, I need your help” turns into a situation where the one who wants help may only get that help when it benefits the target. Otherwise, it’s met with silence. Nobody has time for a quick and simple reply of “I’m sorry, I can’t help today.” Life happens, and people get busy, I understand that. But, if you only support someone when you need something, then you’re missing the point of courtesy.

So, what can we do? In a world of so much perceived bad news, what can we do to improve our outlook? Sometimes, it’s as easy as saying, “you’re doing a good job,” or “hey, you know what, I’ll take that for you because you look like you have your hands full.” Hold the door for someone. Let someone else go first. Answer an email with courtesy. These are little things which can lead to big things. Think about it.