Courtesy - the understated virtue
While sorting through some old boxes in our storage room, I came across a collection of things from my school days. My mom saved things for us three kids and on this particular weekend I was grateful for that.
Among the many items was a speech I delivered in junior high school. The ink produced by the Underwood manual typewriter on the faded small cards was still quite readable. Even now, I vividly remember the challenging assignment. Complete this sentence: Together we will . . .
I wrestled for many days trying to complete the sentence. It was my dad who provided the inspiration for a speech that would win a Manitoba Provincial Championship that year. What I had no way of knowing was that its timeless message would reflect, years later, a critical lesson for leaders and the mission of Tero. Below are excerpts of the speech.
Together We Will Promote Courtesy - The Understated Virtue
At this time I would like to discuss a much neglected topic. It relates to the concern we must have as human beings for the feelings and sensitivity of the others we come in contact with in our daily lives. It relates to the recognition by one and all of the value of courtesy in these relationships. It relates to the duty each of us has to accord this particular virtue the importance and consideration it deserves.
It is easy to take the virtue for granted. If you were to visit some quite unfamiliar place such as China, the first thing you would mention in a letter home would be the way the people there behaved. This would be the most important thing to you, and the way you behaved would be equally important to the Chinese. Indeed it is only when we are in an unfamiliar circumstance that we begin to realize that courtesy and good manners are the universal passport to friendships and respect.
Courtesy is hardly some strange inheritance from the distant past, but rather, it is a long standing code of behavior. Moses did more than bring down the Ten Commandments from the mountain, he inferred to those who followed a standard of personal conduct; the need to respect the blind, the deaf and the infirm, the need to refrain from bearing tales about others, the need to be civil to visitors and strangers.
It is one of the misfortunes of today’s society that these fundamentals are ignored by many. This was recognized by a Canadian newspaper columnist, Clair Wallace, in 1967 when she said “There is a greater informality in life today, in conduct, in clothes and particularly among young people. Yet this does not alter the fact that good manners and living by the rules of society are important.” Are there really any rules? Yes—there are rules that society has codified in association with ideals referred to as etiquette. There comes a time in everyone’s life when he or she wants desperately to know how to do the right thing in an unfamiliar setting.
Nonconformity to the niceties of society is not a sin, but a public nuisance. Orderly social relations are needed so that people can live and work in reasonable harmony. While everyone is free to behave socially as she wishes, that does not give her license to act in such a way that it detracts from the well-being and ease of other people. There is something of the clown in a person who goes out of his way to act differently from the company he is in, and the hallmark of a vulgar person is his love of attracting attention to himself. Sir Winston Churchill once said of a member of parliament “The honorable gentleman is trying to win distinction by rudeness.”
Courtesy is consideration for others. It is really nothing more complicated than this. If the automobile drivers of the world alone would recognize this, only a fraction of the accidents which now occur would actually happen. Together we must make an effort in our ever more complicated environment to be more courteous. It can be accomplished by less effort and ultimately will produce greater benefit than almost anything else we can do. To do this we must remember that courtesy consists of little things. No one is ever likely to say “thank you” too often. When any service is performed there should be no hesitation in expressing appreciation with a smile. A spirit of tolerance should be encouraged. We need to make allowances. To learn not to peer at others looking for fault in them. In short, we must learn to treat people as if they were what they could be.
Arnold Bennett once said “you will make more friends in a week by getting yourself interested in other people than you can in a year by trying to get other people interested in you.” With this remark, he illustrated his awareness of the virtue of a courteous person – one who is gentle in manner, tolerant in temper, civil in behavior, humane in mood, broad and comprehending in outlook. The virtue of courtesy is indeed worth attaining.