June 25, 2006

An Act of Courtesy

Today I took a trip to the Crappy Tire to buy a lawn mower. My reel mower just wasn't "cutting it" anymore. The super nitrogen-enriched green grass in the front yard was too thick and long for the reel mower and since I hadn't once cut my grass since the spring, I finally broke down and bought a powered mower.

With my new purchase, safely contained in its box and stacked upon a shopping cart, I wheeled my way toward the exit. A gentleman, because that's what he was, was in front of me. Seeing me coming, he went to open the door for me, but because the doors had motion sensors and are designed to open automatically (which they did), he was unable to open the doors. The doors beat him to it.

Undeterred, the gentleman stepped forward to open the second set of doors for me which, like the first, opened on their own accord.

Undaunted, he stepped through the second set of doors, took one of the doors by the side and "held it open" for me, waving me through with a smile.

Now that's courtesy. Even when there was no need to be courteous, this man (from California) made an attempt at courtesy.

And it got me thinking.

In this day and age of automation and convenience, are all the little courtesies that people once performed for each other becoming extinct?

It used to be that when a man walked with a woman down the street, he walked on the side facing the road. This was to protect the lady from the double dangers of splashes from street traffic and the splashes of falling debris when people tossed out their bed pans. Modern sewer and road systems have pretty much removed the need for that courtesy.

Let's face it, it was only common courtesy to rewind your VCR tapes. Who needs to do that anymore?

And with so many vehicles and shopping carts around, when was the last time you saw anyone offer to carry grocery bags for an old man or an old lady?

These are but a few examples. Some of these things still happen, but seem not quite so frequent. But there are others. Do you ever see anyone stop to pick-up a piece of garbage that was laying on the street? Street sweepers or paid cleaners take care of that.

When was the last time you saw someone let someone else in front of them in a line? Grocery and big box stores aren't designed for it. Once you get into that little lane, that's the order in which you're being served. You're not meant to think of the people behind you; you're supposed to pay attention to the impulse-buying items around you. That's what retail science is all about.

In some ways, not having to pay attention to these courtesies is great. It's convenient. It takes a lot less effort and leaves more time for those busy lives we all have. But in other ways, it worries me a great deal. Taking the time to perform acts of courtesy allows us to remember that we are not individuals struggling alone through our everyday lives, but are there for each other and are there to help each other. The connections that we make when we perform or are the recipient of a courteous act remind us that we're still a part of something. Sometimes, a small act of service, a minor courtesy, can mean so much more to the person who receives it.

So, to the Gentleman from California at the Crappy Tire, I say, futile though though your act of courtesy was, it did not go unappreciated.


Anonymous said...

Act of courtesy connect us with others, which is more and more important in this age of virtual communication and isolation in the city. (Fortunately, folks in Whitehorse are still a lot friendlier than in Toronto. It's a lot less overwhelming to live with 23,000 other people than with millions.)


Speaka said...

Rather than an overt act of courtesy, sometimes a smile is sufficient to affect other people in a positive way. Luckily the smile will never succomb to technological advances.

"If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work." -Thich Nhat Hanh-

Anonymous said...

Another reason for the lady to be on the inside (left) side - the man's right sword arm was then free if needed. It wouldn't help you though - lefty!!

Meandering Michael said...

What kind of crazy lady would stand right beside a guy who was using a sword? Unless he was using her as a shield...

Every Photo Tells A Story said...

You make a valid point, Lefty! And, I guess Speaka found the solution.

P.S. See how ultra courteous we Americans are?? :)

Meandering Michael said...

Absolutely, the last American who pulled me over at gunpoint was very courteous about opening the line of militia that blocked my path. :P