Life Lesson #35… Common Courtesy

I was moving about my “business as usual” day not really doing anything out of the ordinary when an elderly man knocked on my driver’s side window.  I had just dashed into the post office, grabbed my mail and without a second thought hurriedly  entered my truck to glance over the items for a brief moment before venturing on.  I rolled down my window, thinking in my haste I must have dropped something that the kindly gentleman had retrieved for me.  He was a friendly looking, grandfatherly type, one you knew you could instantly be friends with.

“Howya doin’?” I asked with a grin, ready to thank him for being so alert and kind to me.

“Hey, I just wanted to thank your parents for raising such a well mannered young man.”

“Why, thank you!” I said, stammering… beaming, then offering. “There are so few off us left!”

“Boy, you got that right!”  He said and turned to walk away.

“Take it easy!”  I called back, he just waved behind him and I was rolling out off the parking lot before I could really think of what had just happened.  As I drove on I thought back to what extraordinary act I might have done to warrant such recognition from a total stranger.

As I had approached the post office I might have said good afternoon to someone, which to me is just a way of saying, “hello, how are you?” or “If we meet at the door at the same time, you go first.” or “I’ll slow down so you can walk past so we don’t collide.”  Humans are not equipped with back up alarms, review mirrors, horns, turn signals or 2.5 mile per hr rated bumpers so we have to use the next best thing… our mouths.  And a kind word often gets better results then a harsh one. 

There is a good possibility I could have held the door open for the person behind me using the 5-10 rule, i.e. if a man is within 5 feet behind you hold the door, if the person is a woman make it 10.  My friend Jeff Maynes told me that years ago and it always seemed to garnish a thank you from the participants.  Of course, there is no hard fast rule in distance but you get the idea.  Especially when entering a post office you can just about guarantee somebody is going to be laden with a package or two and appreciate the help.

Now once inside I might have brushed against a person making an exit so instinctively an “excuse me” might have escaped my lips.  People always seem to be in a hurry to leave government buildings so you have to be mindful of that.  Once again a quick “hello” to an approaching person might have avoided the near miss all together but I’m not infallible either. 

I try to say “please” and “thank you” or “I appreciate that” and be sincere in the utterance, I have found it generally doesn’t cost me any more time or money to offer these words and most of the time people will reciprocate in kind.  So when I peek through my mail box hole and see the postal worker on the other side I might say with mock seriousness, “Where did all these bills come from?” or “Hey, they said the check was in the mail!” which I’m sure they hear a million times a day but they know it is just a coded greeting using postal lingo.  I’m very hip in the realm of post office-dom.

I felt bad as I turned on the street and merged with the traffic.  To think that the man that went out of his way to acknowledge my weak attempts at civility may have had to endure rude behavior this day made me sad.  Because it is so rare in our activities these days I actually felt good about doing something that should be as natural as breathing, and I was humbled by his graceousness in pointing it out to me. 

Common courtesy is not all that common in our culture and that is a darn shame.  People that are rude, crass or indifferent will be the first to complain if they get a dose of their own medicine but somehow view these traits in themselves as a sign of strength.  The “I don’t care what you think” or “I don’t need you” attitudes, “I am strong”, “What are you lookin’ at?” or “Get out of my way!” approach to strangers alienates us to what is so desperately needed in our society; and that is …a welcome spirit. 

I regret I didn’t get out and shake that man’s hand, find out more about him or ask how life was treating him.  Our chance meeting at that particular space and time likely will never be repeated because we are so busy these days running around with our little tasks.  I hope he has a kind wife with a warm smile and a laugh to lift the heart.  I’d like to think he has children that have all grown to adulthood and carry the same values he has.  Perhaps he has been blessed with a dozen or so grandchildren that love to come over, eat cookies ‘n’ milk and talk about the good ol’ days.  He deserves it, …and it doesn’t cost any more. 

Like the High Llama of Shangra La once said,  “We live by one rule, …to be kind.”  If only that were true today, common courtesy would be the rule, not the exception.  The witnessing of it would be as normal as breathing and nearly as satisfying. 

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