Politeness has been well defined as benevolence in trifles. Like benevolence on a larger scale, it includes a feeling in the mind as well as the performance of those outward actions by which that feeling is manifested. The internal feeling, which is an essential part of true politeness, is the same all over the world, however much its manifestations may differ.
It is the desire to put those whom we meet perfectly at their ease, and save them from every kind of petty discomfort and annoyance. Benevolence in its ordinary sense implies love of our fellow-men and a desire to do all we can to promote their permanent happiness.
The limited part of benevolence called politeness requires only an inclination to make them happy temporarily, while they are in our presence, and when this can be done without any sacrifice on our part or only with a slight sacrifice of personal comfort.
It is possible that politeness may be dissociated from general excellence of character, as in the case of Charles II., who exhibited his remarkable urbanity of manner even on his death-bed by apologising for being “a most unconscionable time dying.”
In certain cases there may even be a conflict between politeness and ordinary benevolence. For instance, a doctor may, by politely sacrificing his place in a conveyance to a lady, arrive late at a sickbed where his presence is urgently required. In such cases, of course, politeness should yield to the higher obligation.
The particular actions in which politeness is manifested differ according to circumstances and according to the customs of different countries. As long as society recognises distinctions in rank, politeness requires us to show marks of respect to our superiors, that are not expected in the presence of our equals and inferiors.
Different rules of behaviour have to be observed, according as we are in the street or in the drawing-room, at home or at school, in the company of friends or of strangers. There is also...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document