In Praise of Courtesy

In Praise of Courtesy

Remember when courtesy was part of what defined a good human being? If there is one personality trait I wish I could bring back to the forefront of humanity, it would be civility.

“Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart,” wrote Henry Clay

Madame de Stael called it “the art of choosing among your thoughts.”

Author Amit Kalantri sadly notes that, “Politeness is the first thing people lose once they get the power.”

That doesn’t have to be the case.

It’s possible to be courteous and still get your point across. The British have been courteously insulting one another for centuries. And sometimes the passion connected to the strength of a belief can boil over.

I recently found a poem I wrote in elementary school to help me remember what to do when someone lost their temper.

“Courtesy and sympathy go hand in hand when we seek first to understand.”

A courteous disposition can be contagious. To paraphrase St. Basil, “Plant courtesy and reap friendships.”

But sometimes, it’s just plain hard to be courteous, when it feels like the world around you is anything but.

Bryant McGill puts this into perspective. “Courtesy is a silver lining around the dark clouds of civilization; it is the best part of refinement and in many ways, an art of heroic beauty in the vast gallery of man’s cruelty and baseness.”

Kipling begins and ends his famous poem “If” with these words:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

It most cases, courtesy is an easy thing to manifest. Give it freely, widely and often. You never know when that gift might be just what someone needed at just that moment.