Well, will you look at that! March 21st is apparently “Common Courtesy Day.”
There’s a day for everything, I guess. This one seems easy enough to get behind, as one tweeter suggested:
Today is Common Courtesy Day and I think we need more of that. Be nice.
I do try to be nice when I am out and about: friendly, pleasant and respectful to store clerks and people I come in contact with. From my years in food service I remember quite clearly what a difference it made when customers treated me like a real human being. It can brighten an otherwise dreary day. And I suspect that’s the sort of interaction that a “Common Courtsey Day” is focusing on.
Letting someone in front of you in traffic is easy. Hold open a door for someone or give a person a hand with his groceries. Give up your seat on the bus to someone who might need it. Introduce yourself to the new employee or kid at school and take the time to introduce them to the rest of the crew.
Common courtesy exists largely on the surface, smoothing the rough edges life’s daily interactions. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a useful skill to have. But it’s not the be all and end all of human interaction.
The people who rail against “mean speech” are ignoring the fact that perfectly acceptable polite speech can hide all kinds of harm. One can be pleasant in conversation yet advocate for policies that are exclusionary or repressive. Does that make it okay because they are “civil” in the way they go about it?
It’s not okay to “be nice” while hoarding resources, excluding those who are different than you are, or dominating discussions in a way that keeps others from having a voice. (And I have been guilty of that last one, to be honest.)
Let’s look at that snippet from the Courtesy article, but add some adjustments.
Letting someone in front of you in traffic is easy. Would you advocate for better transportation options for those without cars?
Hold open a door for someone or give a person a hand with his groceries. Would you prioritize funding for accessibility infrastructure? Lend your support to a living wage so your neighbor can afford groceries?
Give up your seat on the bus to someone who might need it. Would you get vaccinated, boosted and wear a mask indoors to protect those who are vulnerable?
Introduce yourself to the new employee or kid at school and take the time to introduce them to the rest of the crew. Would you welcome changes to your school, or neighborhood, or workplace in a way that empowers the newcomers?
But that’s not Common Courtesy, you may say. Perhaps not. Perhaps we could call it Uncommon Courtesy. I think we need more of it. It takes a good deal more bravery to willingly put yourself in a situation where you acknowledge that you are not the center of the universe and you want to allow others to be empowered. Letting go of the outcome is hard. It’s almost always necessary if you’re serious about letting people in.
I’m not advocating that we dispense with common courtesy. Celebrate it today and every day. But don’t use it as the only framework for what makes a decent human being. We can all go deeper than that.