Common Courtesy

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Along with what seemed to be half the population of Denver, I sat quietly in my seat on the light rail train. It was about 5 p.m. and the train was packed, and unlike most I was headed to work rather than from work. It was nearly three stations into the ride and a very pregnant woman boarded the train; I thought this woman seriously could explode at any moment. She was at the opposite end of the train, however, I had a clear view of all the disturbing events that unraveled. There was not a seat in site so the woman remained standing, transferring her weight from one leg to the other; anyone could realize she was uncomfortable. Surrounding this woman were many young businessmen, all of which seemed to be fit enough to stand through a train ride. However, although noticing the pregnant woman, not a single one of them gave her their seat.

Not being able to take the pressure of standing and the twists and turns of the train, the woman walked towards the steps of the doors and sat on the floor. This was sick. Although out of my way, I made my way across the train to offer her my seat. At first she denied, but I knew the woman desperately needed a place to sit. Asking a second time she took me up on my offer. She was so thankful and polite about the situation, as if giving up a simple seat was equivalent to a gift of gold. I felt great, I had done a good deed and the feeling of satisfaction engulfed my body. I began to realize that this woman walked from one end of the train to the other and not one person had offered her their seat, notably the young businessmen occupying the majority of the train. Have I missed the memo that we are not to be courteous anymore? Should it really have been up to me to relive this woman of her suffering? For some reason I find it odd that I was the only one of about 100 people to demonstrate an act of common courtesy. On the other hand, it gave me the great idea to explore what others think about common courtesy, and just how common it really is.

In Michael Haugh’s article “Revisiting the Conceptualisation of Politeness,” he takes us through the difference with common “first-order” politeness and theoretical “second-order” politeness. He explains how this first-order concept involves the “…various ways in which polite behavior is perceieved and talked about by memebers of sociocultural groups…” (Haugh 86). What I felt Haugh was saying was that this is a commonsense or the outer-shell of the concept of politeness. He continues with explaining how this first-order concept is basically how speakers are consciously aware when the politeness is in action, but at times people are not always consciously aware of it. Apparently all of the people sitting on the lightrail that day were unaware… Haugh then defines the second-order concept as a “theoretical construct, a term within a theory of social behavior and language use” (Haugh 86). This can also be known as “politic behavior” or even “language diplomacy”. It was harder for me to grasp the concept of the second-order, which could be because he didn’t explain it thoroughly, but I keep thinking that politeness shouldn’t have two different concepts. Rather confused, I decided to continue my research for something more on the lines of common courtesy, and less on the lines of politeness, seeing now that the two may be different.

The problem with common courtesy is that it is not nearly common enough. You do not have to look hard to search out examples where common courtesy occurs. For instance holding doors for others behind you, or thanking that person if the door is held for you. Although manners such as these may be common sense to some, many members of today’s society do not utilize them. It seems that within the past generation manners have seemed to die off. In Michael A. Pflughoeft’s article “The Death of Common Courtesy? Why Responding to All Communications is a Must”, he relates the use of common courtesy with responding to...
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