Courtesy, the double edged sword.

Everyone wants to be courteous.  Don’t they?  Generally, and to survive with our fellow humans on this mudball, most people usually want to play nice with others and be polite and respectful to their needs/desires and expect similar courtesy from others.  It’s not always possible but we try.

From Dictionary.com:

cour·te·sy [kur-tuh-see] noun, plural cour·te·sies, adjective

1. excellence of manners or social conduct; polite behavior.
2. a courteous, respectful, or considerate act or expression.
3. indulgence, consent, or acquiescence.
4. favor, help, or generosity.

What intrigues me is that courtesy, generally accepted as a positive concept, is quite often taken to extremes in a totally unconscious way and actually ends up having exactly the opposite effect.  You see, to be courteous one has to put the needs of others ahead of oneself – a perfectly honourable and socially acceptable thing to do.  I doubt the cavemen fighting over the last piece of juicy mammoth would agree but I figure we have evolved a little since then.

So, we want to be considerate and let the old lady take the last seat on the bus, move into the slow lane to let the faster car go past on the highway or wait until everyone has had a piece of cake before you snatch a second helping.   Now this is all good and well if the only person affected negatively by your courtesy is yourself – you decided to stand on aching legs and forgo that sugar rush in favour of everyone getting some.  You decided to trade the bumpy ride for that “feel good” feeling.  Just you.

What about someone else?  Stop for a moment and think.   Are you sure that your actions are not inadvertently being discourteous to someone else?   Is your decision, although courteous to yourself and the other party involved, actually disrespectful to someone else?

Let’s say you are driving down the road and you see a line of cars waiting to cross your lane to get into a parking lot.  So you do the courteous thing and stop, letting a car through… then you smile and wave a second and third car through… and then a fourth… and a fifth slips through before you decide to continue on your merry way with a smile and a nice warm fuzzy feeling secure in the knowledge that you have been courteous to your fellow man.

Ding dong… what about the 6 cars that waited behind you while you had your moment playing a monk?  Could it perhaps be that you ended up being rude to other drivers by taking away their right to decide to be courteous or not, could it perhaps be that your actions now mean that 6 other drivers are now frustrated at not getting their own “turn” and will as a direct consequence not be courteous later because of your actions… or perhaps you have caused a traffic jam behind you that created a bumper bashing further up the road… or perhaps you inconvenienced someone behind you who also needed a spot in that parking lot and now cannot because you let 5 others through before he/she got a chance?

If being courteous is something you can do without the repercussions of your choices being imposed on others (without them being given a chance to agree to it) then by all means, go for it.  Just do the world a favour, next time you let someone jump the queue or take that extra slice of cake, just stop and think for a moment – being courteous to one while being rude to a dozen others defeats the point entirely.

Lanceolot

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