Articles of Faith: Uncommon Courtesy

I know you have experienced it… road rage, abusive language, people on cell phones everywhere you turn! Many of us lament the state of the world today: we are alienated, hurried, busy, stressed, overworked, sleep-deprived, and media-saturated.

In short, we are discourteous.

Rudeness is everywhere. And we are quick to point out public rudeness when we see. But unfortunately, we are far less likely to notice instances of our own rudeness.

Is society less courteous than 20 or 30 years ago?

Perhaps, but maybe we just accept it more than we did before. Sandra Ford Walston, in her article The Acceptance of Rudeness in the Workplace, suggests that we have become lazy in the practice of courtesy and in so doing we have raised a second generation who are ignorant of these values. While public courtesy may be much harder to spot today, there are some who intentionally seek strength through intimidation and impolite behavior.

In fact, the philosopher, Eric Hoffer, once said

Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength

The natural hierarchy of our organizations provides a fertile ground for those who seek to gain strength through intimidation. Much of our power within organizations comes as we move to the top. And let’s face it… intimidation is a tool to help get us there. But a simple antidote to this intimidation is courtesy – kill them with kindness.

After all, intimidation is not possible within a culture of courtesy.

What is courtesy?

Courtesy is being polite and having good manners. It is a gracious way of speaking and acting that gives others a feeling of being valued and respected. It is greeting and treating others with respect. Uncommon courtesy is a discipline whereby we show unconditional love for everyone, regardless of the environment or culture. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:46-47 (NIV)

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

What is the value of uncommon courtesy?

Courtesy and politeness are more than arbitrary social rules. Showing respect and giving honor to others is a large part of what makes society work.

We indicate to others, through our courteous nature, our willingness to work with them to accomplish goals – whether sharing the road, our workspace, or the dinner table.

Courtesy, like any other habit, must be practiced if you want to make it a part of who you are.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

Life is short, but there is always time enough for courtesy

Below are two ways to incorporate uncommon courtesy as a spiritual discipline in our lives.

First, we must recognize and reward courtesy. If we give in and continue to allow rudeness, we, by our complacency, are condoning discourteous behavior. However, by recognizing courtesy we are establishing a new value system, especially when we do this in our workplace. Althea DeBrule, in her article Courtesy in the Workplace – Can you Say, Thank You? suggests that we need to demonstrate that we value courtesy and good manners by saying thank you. She goes on to suggest four ways to form a “thank you habit.” While this is just one example of recognizing and rewarding good manners, it is a step towards uncommon courtesy.

Second, we must be intentional in our practice of courtesy. Courtesy is an offshoot of deep moral behavior. It costs nothing but pays well. No one is too big or too busy to practice courtesy. George Washington, arguably one of the greatest figures in the history of the American nation, wrote 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. While a little outdated, these rules reflect something too often missing in our culture today: a focus on others rather than ourselves.

A few of the most poignant rules as related to uncommon courtesy include:

Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present

Use no reproachful language against any one neither curse nor revile

Never express anything unbecoming, nor act against the rules moral before your inferiors

Detract not from others neither be excessive in commanding

Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise

While these may seem a bit out of place in our world, even the smallest of gestures, done with unconditional love, are acts of uncommon courtesy. Remember the words of author and lawyer Christian Nestell Bovee:

The small courtesies sweeten life, the greater, ennoble it

What can you do to practice courtesy as a spiritual discipline?

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Dr. Hampton Hopkins consults, writes, speaks, and teaches about leadership and organizational development.
He can be reached at

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