Is courtesy a dying art form?
Before you think this is a rant, it isn’t. I'm curious, and not necessarily because of any particular incidence or encounter. We interact so frequently with so many kinds of screens and not human beings, are we losing the ability to be courteous to each other?
Courtesy is a social contract. It is about equality and rooted in a belief of fairness and kindness. No one is better, more important or more deserving than any other. We hold the door for all the people.
It’s a skill that can be taught and honed. It’s certainly not innate - infants must be taught to share. It’s a construct of living in the world with other people. It’s one of those soft skills that get overlooked and yet, like manners, allow us to operate in a world full of other humans.
I think courtesy is an art, and like great art, it should be thoughtful and strategic. A considerate act or expression. That can be anything from telling the lady getting out of her car at the grocery parking lot that she dropped something, or signaling to the guy at the opposite stop sign that his coffee mug is on top of his car. No doubt it’s less embarrassing for us to let a woman exiting the bathroom with her skirt accidentally tucked into her hosiery to keep walking, but it would be wrong.
Courtesy is not just an act, but a way of acting. At work, we (hopefully) offer constructive criticism as opposed to berating a co-worker for something done incorrectly. We don’t eat other people’s lunch from the fridge and we do make fresh coffee if we’ve taken the last cup. Again, it’s an equalizer and tantamount to the Golden Rule.
Ultimately, courtesy is a way to make other people’s journey through life a little easier, a little smoother and a little more connected to ourselves. Perhaps in a world focused on screens, we can create a more artful life by looking at humans.
LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics headquartered in Charleston, SC. Her company uses theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans.