Here in California we are almost always in a state of spaciousness. Even when stuck in a miserable traffic jam we still have the boundary of the car surrounding us. However, when in New York City humanity always seems to be squashed up against each other. You are always mashed into an elevator or squeezed into a theatre seat or jostled inside a mob attempting to view Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Something about that world brings out the best in me. Perhaps it is because I do not live in that mad setting, I find it easier and more enjoyable to extend courtesy as I make my way through the city. I always make a point of saying “good morning” when I step into the elevator, hold the door open for the individual behind me or make sure I am not stepping ahead of the person starring at the menu in a caffeine deficient daze at Starbucks. I relish the look of surprise and pleasure when I extend these small gestures and I feel an instant lift in my mood and disposition by offering some small courtesy to a stranger.
What a beautiful word: courtesy. Webster’s definition: “marked by respect for and consideration of others.” I would suggest that courtesy is at the foundation of Christianity. When considering the stories of Jesus and his interactions with others don’t you view him as consistently extending respect to those with whom he comes in contact? When he interacts with untouchables, dines with undesirables, forgives those deemed intolerable, he demonstrates consideration. Is it not Jesus who encourages us to let others go ahead to a higher place at the banquet table? Can you not see the miracle of turning water into wine as an effort to avoid embarrassment on behalf of the bridal party? Does he not avoid discourse that diminishes those who challenge and scorn him?
I find it discouraging how rude and abrupt we are becoming as a culture. Insensitivity and brusqueness all excused in homage to the god of convenience and expediency. It would appear to me that common courtesy is the grease that eases the rough edges of civilization. I suspect we may never know the impact some small act of kindness may have on the stranger but my hope is that when we make the effort to be patient and kind, when we notice someone struggling to get a stroller or walker through a doorway, when we take the time to offer a smile it might not only lighten another’s burden but also create good will. Maybe courtesy is infectious. What if one act of courtesy is repaid by another and another until person by person, action by action, moment by moment the world becomes a more gentle, loving and holy place?Courtesy is the silver lining around the dark clouds of civilization; it is the best part of refinement and in many ways, an art of heroic beauty in the vast gallery of man’s cruelty and baseness. Bryant H. McGill~