By Angela Noel
July 23, 2018
I’ve written several posts about encounters with people while traveling in the last year. One about trouble in the security line. Another about assumptions I made about a priest. I’ve also talked about things I’ve learned from drivers of taxis or Ubers. All of these posts highlighted, in one way or another, the importance of basic civility, courtesy, and kindness. This post pulls some of those ideas together and adds a few more.
In a world where we seem not far away from implosion (depending on who you happen to be listening to and when), these perfect gifts go a long way. They’re so simple. It’s easy to miss them, or dismiss them. But we shouldn’t. “Well, that’s just common courtesy,” you might think. And I’d agree with you. But “just common courtesy” isn’t a given. It’s a practice.
When visiting the Petrified Forest National Park, visitors are warned,”The removal of petrified wood or other features of the park is prohibited by law.” Why do they do this? Simple. If everyone who visited removed a piece of wood, no matter how small, there wouldn’t be any left for others to enjoy. Every little bit counts. Maybe not one piece, or two, or even a thousand. But eventually everyone who thinks, “just this one piece, just this one time,” is responsible for the depletion of a natural resource. Our little part, the simple choice we make, contributes either to preserving a good thing for others to enjoy or to destroying it.
That’s how I think of these courtesies. Practicing them preserves the good things. They are likely to go unnoticed–no one thanks the visitor who manages NOT to take a petrified spar of wood from the forest. But that doesn’t mean we’re not all grateful. Choosing to do the right thing is as much a choice as choosing to do the wrong thing. I am not consciously grateful for the myriad of little things people do to play by the rules every day or to simply allow me to exist unmolested. But, every now and again, I am. So, here’s the list of courtesies I try and practice and appreciate in others, even if I don’t always say it.
- Looking someone in the eye when saying hello
- Smiling all the way to the eyes
- Holding the elevator door when it looks as if someone might need a ride
- Opening any door for someone
- Allowing them to open a door for you
- Remembering someone’s name
- Telling someone at an appropriate moment that they have spinach in their teeth
- Not using the accessible restroom unless you need to
- Saying please and thank you
- Accepting an apology when someone accidentally bonks you on the head or leg with their suitcase
- Keeping your shoes on when flying
- Not reclining your airline seat
- Throwing away garbage in appropriate receptacles (and never in a storm drain)
- Picking up and disposing of the occasional litter on the street (We all accidentally drop something now and again. I’m sure I have. So I consider this penance for past mistakes.)
- Waving or smiling at someone you know or don’t know in your neighborhood
- Offering a seat in the tram, train, or bus to a tired man, woman or child
- Noticing if someone is distressed and offering help
- Using your turn signal
- Forgiving someone if they forget to use their turn signal and accidentally cut you off (It’s not on purpose, I swear. If it was me, I’m just focused on not getting lost. But I realize I seem like a jerk in that moment. I’m sorry.)
- Flushing the toilet when you’re done
- Mopping splashed water up after washing your hands
- Not talking on the phone in a public restroom
- Muting yourself if you need to use the restroom at home and happen to be talking on the phone
- If you don’t want to do something, say no
- If you say you’ll do something, do it
- Asking how someone’s doing and actually wanting to know the answer
- Assuming positive intent as a general rule (But making exceptions when a pattern of deceit or bad behavior emerges.)
- Trying not to cut in line–even though lines makes everyone feel a little crazy (Being pushy just makes everyone else more nervous.)
- Not staring at other people’s pimples
- Not stoping in a walkway or roadway unless it’s a) a real emergency b) you want to ask someone to marry you, or c) you are giving the person behind you a million dollars
In summary, the Hippocratic Oath, taken by doctors, includes this statement, “I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing.” A doctor promises never to intentionally injure and to always act with thoughtfulness. We can all do this. In my case, I can’t honestly say I’ll never harm someone. I can say I won’t do it on purpose. Similarly, I can promise to act according to my “ability and judgment” to do the right thing. Some time in the future I may be called upon to do something REALLY important. But most of the time, it’ll just be enough to help a sweet little girl with a timid voice get a cookie when the clerk doesn’t hear her.
Actions like these, mere pebbles that amount to something greater, help leave a better world for those who come next.
Your turn: What makes your nice list?