“In all the affairs of life, social as well as political, courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart” (Henry Clay).
COURTESY IS ONE OF THOSE LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE THAT EXERTS AN INFLUENCE OUT OF ALL PROPORTION TO ITS SEEMING SIGNIFICANCE. When we choose to conduct ourselves courteously, we often find that huge consequences flow from words and deeds which, at the time, seemed rather unimportant. “It is amazing what a warming influence courtesy can have on an otherwise dreary world” (E. M. McKee). Courtesy is a uniquely powerful virtue.
In our discussions of “enthusiastic ideas,” we have looked at several other words related to courtesy. “Civility,” for example, may mean that we merely refrain from doing things that are rude. “Politeness,” however, is more than the absence of rude behavior; it is the positive doing of gracious deeds. And “courtesy,” rightly understood, goes deeper still. It has to do with the spirit that motivates our outward actions, and it means sincere attention and kindness to others.
As everybody knows, it is easy to be courteous to individuals who are friendly and likeable. If we have reason to believe they will appreciate our gesture and think kindly of us for doing it, that makes it even easier. But what about those who are disagreeable and ungrateful? Well, courtesy implies a recognition of the other person’s human dignity and worth, and sometimes that is hidden beneath layers of “stuff.” I believe it helps to deal with people not as they are but as they would be if they were their ideal self. As Emerson said, “We must be as courteous to a man as we are to a picture, which we are willing to give the advantage of a good light.” We will be courteous to people when we look at them in the “light” that is most favorable to them.
If courtesy is important anywhere, it’s especially important in our closest relationships. Too often, we make the effort to be courteous to everybody else but then treat those nearest and dearest to us with rudeness and irritability. But if anybody in the world deserves to get our very best behavior, isn’t it those we come home to after work?
“Courtesy is perhaps more important in the family than anywhere else, because in this relation people are thrown most closely together, and need the protection of courtesy” (George Derby).