Common Courtesy and Respect

Topics: Pay It Forward, Etiquette, Kindness Pages: 5 (1401 words) Published: February 4, 2013
Where has our common courtesy and respect gone?

Lionel Wijesiri

"When music and courtesy are better understood and appreciated, there will be no war. (Confucius)

Most of us belonging to pre-Gen X (people who are 60+ of age) will agree that both young and not-so-young amongst us have become less considerate and more selfish than they used to be few decades ago. We know it through personal experience, and we know it through published studies.

By performing a kind act, one makes the world a slightly more pleasant place to live. It’s like that series of commercials where one person sees another person doing something inspired or heroic, and then at a later time makes a point of paying it forward. This happens again and again. It is the Golden Rule. I’ll be the first to admit that putting this principle into everyday practice is tough, when you live in this fast-paced society. It was only yesterday, that I didn’t yield to my fellow pedestrians during evening rush hour when I was stuck in traffic en route to pick up my grandson from school. Later, I felt guilty and ashamed but it was too late.


Lack of manners for Sri Lankans is not whether you confuse the salad fork for the dinner fork. It's about the daily assault of selfish, inconsiderate behaviour that gets under people's skin on the highways, in the office, on TV, in stores and the myriad other settings where they encounter fellow citizens.

When someone else does something we consider wrong, we tend to blame their personalities. When we do it ourselves, we blame circumstances. For example, if my kids spill juice, they're being clumsy. If I spill it, I was distracted. Other people don't get the pass we give ourselves. The inner brat is the part that wants what it wants when it wants it and doesn't care who or what is destroyed in the process.

Second Nature

I make it a habit to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to anyone I come in contact with – the server in the restaurant, the cashier at the grocery store, the bookstore clerk, the staff at the dentist’s office, and even the letter carrier who repeatedly delivers the wrong mail to my house.  I purposely wait and hold doors open for people (young, old, in between – makes no never-mind to me), and I even let the person with a half dozen items in their basket go ahead of me in the checkout line when my cart is full. 

To me, this is second nature – it’s the way I was raised. What really surprises me is how shocked many of the recipients of my ‘Please and thank you, have a nice day’ approach are when I do these things.

The sad fact of the matter is that they are taken aback by my acts of kindness because so few people exhibit these traits anymore.  I watch, horrified, every day as people of all ages and walks of life ignore the tenets of common courtesy – seemingly because they think that they are the only ones who deserve to be waited on, or answered, or served.  They demand this, insist on that, and criticize something else (that is often beyond the control of the person they are complaining to).  They don’t ask nicely, they don’t acknowledge what they receive, and they’re often just plain rude when they speak to the various people they interact with during their day. 

It’s as if they think that saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ somehow diminishes them in the eyes of others, and that by acting as they do, they are holding themselves ‘above’ those who serve them.  Regardless of someone’s age, colour, religion, size, shape, or wage-earning status, they are entitled to be treated with exactly the same kind of respect you expect them to show you. 


Improper behaviour sometimes starts with the ‘server’ being the instigator (the clerk in the store yakking on a cell phone, or the waitress who ignores you, the snarly cashier, for example).  There are a couple of things to consider when this happens: 

• It takes all kinds – not everyone in the world was raised by people who...
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