“ 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.
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 thought manners were important (or they’ve forgotten what they were taught). Either ignore the behaviour and walk away, or ask politely to speak to a manager and respectfully express your disappointment with the service. • They are only human – perhaps they’re simply having a bad day (or maybe the last customer was a jerk!) You don’t have to respond in kind. • Being boorish back is not going to improve the situation – in fact, it is far more likely to escalate it. Regardless of why someone else might be behaving badly – you don’t have to, too. Take the high road and – who knows? – you might even improve their mood by doing so!
I could list dozens of instances of discourteous behaviour that I’ve witnessed on a daily basis (and I bet you could to). Sadly, it shows up everywhere (including on most TV shows, and even in the interminable mud-slinging campaigns of our political ‘ leaders’). When it happens, I’d love to be able to (respectfully) point it out and say ‘ Enough already’ but it’s doubtful that would help (I’d probably just get the finger and a good tongue-lashing from the perpetrator).
Instead, I’ve taken a more proactive approach. I’ve upped my own anti-rudeness tactics. I now not only make being polite a habit, I go out of my way to find something nice to say to the people I encounter in my daily activities (with particular attention to those who’ve just been lambasted by some rude lout who apparently believes people who make minimum wage are somehow lesser beings than they are).
The result is really quite astonishing. I encourage you to try it. The next time you reach the front of the line at the coffee shop, or the grocery
store, or wherever you are, in addition to saying ‘ Thank you’, try ‘ Have a nice day’. Or compliment the person serving you on something (the service, their attitude, their smile – whatever might apply).
Resist the urge to rush through the door to wherever you’re going – hold it for the next person. Let someone (a mother with a cranky child, an elderly couple, the shy-looking kid with the two bags of chips and six-pack of pop) go ahead of you in line at the grocery store. Acknowledge all the people who do all the ‘ menial’ tasks that make your life so much easier or better – the policeman at the corner, the bus driver, the garbage man, the mail carrier.
A couple of days ago, I was nearly run over in the store by a young mother and her two kids. No apology, no recognition, nothing. Too often these days, this seems to be the prevailing behaviour; the general attitude is “ Me, me, me”.
Why does our society seem so angry? I don’t know what has caused it. I do know it can be changed by one person at a time changing his or her behaviour.
One of the things you can do is to take a look at your anger. Who did it to you? Who made you mad? Find out. Write a Resentment Inventory. List everyone you blame for your life and everyone you resent. Who done you wrong? What did they do? Write it down. Then forgive every one of them, release them and let it go. It might release the resentment and blame from your consciousness.
Let us get back to good old days when we treated others as we would like to be treated? It starts with you and me! If everyone would do something nice for someone once a day or even once a week, perhaps that would encourage that “ someone” to pass it along. We have all heard of ‘ pay it forward’ but this is even more basic than that. Open the door for someone. Let someone go ahead of you in line. Acknowledge the surprise gift you got due to the thoughtfulness of someone who cared enough to send it to you. The more you do for others, the less you focus on ‘ me, myself and I’ … which is the prevalent selfishness that is all around us … perhaps even in us … every day