It seems that common courtesy is just not very common.
I am not yearning for some romanticized, yesteryear version of politeness that only exists in aging imaginations. I’m talking about the overt, socially acceptable public ugliness that has exploded in recent years.
One doesn’t need Dick Tracy or Sherlock Holmes to see this behavior being modeled after the harsh and often fact-less political rhetoric that has triumphed.
Petty name-calling, threats of harm as well as racist undertones and overtones have fueled an overall sense of license for acts that otherwise would be considered inappropriate and condemned. Instead, ugliness and even violence get cheered on as justified.
Even many of those not participating in the most public and harshest versions of self-indulgence and fear-based hostilities seem to embrace the idea that treating other persons respectfully is unimportant. This is especially true when those with unacknowledged privilege treat those unlike them as threats.
While courtesy is not a distinctly Christian practice, showing basic consideration of others is easily extractable from the teachings of Jesus. If Jesus said and showed anything, it is that all of humanity is of equal value and to be treated with love, grace and mercy.
One cannot love a broadly-defined neighbor as oneself — which Jesus said is half of everything God wants us to be and do — without giving them respect and care.
Often Jesus’ emphasis was specifically focused on providing sensitive and active responses to those who are most vulnerable or in greatest need. Being courteous and kind is at the heart of doing unto others as one wants done to oneself.
Some of this basic, respectful behavior is rooted in the “don’ts” of not demeaning others or not projecting blame on the innocent or not misspeaking of someone when the truth is readily available. The weapons of lying, cheating and ridicule can and should be laid aside.
One way to check our own propensity for selfishness, defensiveness and insensitivity toward others is to take note of our simple, daily behaviors. To what degree do we routinely act in ways that are considerate of others?
My longtime friend Andrew Stone, a high school guidance counselor, posted in social media some brief recommendations recently. He deemed this advice a “graduation speech,” but it’s applicable to all.
Among the routine behaviors of consideration, he counseled: Always return the shopping cart; tip generously every time; hand your money to the cashier rather than throw it on the counter; and don’t hit the car parked next to you with your door.
The one which I think shows the true heart of a person, he advised: Go out of your way to be nice to people in the service industry. Nothing gets my blood boiling like watching customers treat service personnel disrespectfully.
Staff shortages throughout the hospitality industry reveal both a history of mistreatment in many cases as well as their value to our frequent, often daily, experiences. These are people — not our servants.
This includes hotel housekeeping staff who can use the generous tip we leave behind more than we can.
The roadway is another place where some of us (I confess to impatience here.) need to be more considerate. Andrew recommends learning the rules of a four-way stop, and then abiding by them.
He notes, “It’s not a race.” And, I must add, we now have a growing number of traffic circles to navigate.
These are really just ways to be human. But they align with being human as Jesus taught and lived — with an orientation toward common good over personal advancement at the expense of others.
My friend Andrew concluded with, “Follow your heart, always.” However, we must ensure that our hearts are “right” with an orientation toward offering grace and love in the same ways we want to receive them.
There are appropriate times and places for confronting evil, calling out destructive forces and countering falsehoods that bring harm to vulnerable people. Doing such is not unkind. But neither does it negate our need to respect others.
“Little acts of kindness” can be underrated. Because not doing these things (or doing the opposite) send a larger message and reveal a broader reality of self-absorption which is at the heart of the biblical concept of sin.
It’s unconvincing to claim a commitment to a loving and generous God when one’s attitudes and actions are not loving and generous. Such poor behavior within Americanized Christianity conveys a deity who is not loving and generous, but angry, exclusive and petty.
Most of us were taught in childhood to “Be ye kind one to another” (Ephesians 4:32 KJV). Such courtesies don’t expire with age.
As Glen Campbell sang in a 1969 crossover hit: “The kindness that you show every day will help someone along their way.”
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.