Life is a journey, and one thing I have found that makes the trip more exciting is the people we meet along the way. Family, friends, and classmates or coworkers are usually traveling the same roads as us. They can enjoy the journey with us and help us along the way. It is something for which we should be grateful.
But what about the people that we bump into that are traveling a different path? They could be someone at the other end of the grocery store aisle, sitting in the car next to ours at the signal, or walking their dog in the park. Do we acknowledge them when we see them? Do we even care that they exist?
I’m a graduate of Texas A&M University, and we have a tradition at the school. When walking through campus, if you cross paths with another person and make eye contact, you smile and say, “Howdy.” This simple pleasantry isn’t just the school’s official greeting; it creates a friendly environment and connects and unites the people at the university, even if we don’t know them. Howdy is our form of courtesy.
Courtesy is a behavior marked by polished manners or respect for others. This behavior requires a selfless attitude. If we go about our days only thinking about ourselves, we will likely disregard others, which is rude. We always have to remember that there are billions of people on this tiny planet. Although the average person may only interact with a set number of people per day, each contact can send ripples of impact onto others. Our behavior can significantly influence others.
Being courteous isn’t an automatic behavior. It’s something we learn from our parents, teachers, and spiritual guides. They tell us to respect adults and treat others as we want to be treated. They tell us to say please, thank you, and you’re welcome. Of course, we also learn from their examples. If our parents act courteous, we will likely do the same because we inevitably emulate what they do over what they say, even when they aren’t looking.
It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time or energy to be courteous to another person. The behavior doesn’t make you look foolish. You don’t even need to have a higher education to say or do something nice. Courtesy costs us nothing, but there is a cost to not being courteous.
Studies have shown that being indifferent, or worse, being all out rude, have immediate and long term detrimental effects on those around us. How we treat others impacts them and transfers to others beyond. Rudeness has become the norm in society to the point of being an epidemic. Our toxicity infects each and everyone down the line.
Society has become so comfortable with being rude that we are surprised when someone is polite. Our cynical nature even makes us question the motives of the courteous person. Good grief! What has become of us?
Luckily, just as rudeness is contagious, so is courtesy. Yes, every time we act in a polite and well-mannered way, it changes another person’s disposition. And not just one person either, but many along the chain of connections. If we are lucky, someone will see our courtesy towards others and feel that influence, even though they aren’t the direct recipient.
Imagine a world where everyone treated each other, not with malice, but kindness. Imagine having the ability to improve not just one person’s life but many. Perhaps we should stop imagining and start doing. I could tell you to take some time to be courteous, but it is timeless. I could say you should give some effort, but it is effortless. No, courtesy costs nothing but makes life priceless. So, as you go about your day, consider the wise words of two fictional characters traveling through time and “be excellent to each other.”