10 Ways To Rediscover The Kindness of Common Courtesy

Just as any other city, there are a few homeless people who are regulars in my town. 

I have a budget for charity each month, and sometimes I buy them coffee if it’s cold out, or swing by McDonald’s for a warm meal if it’s late (it’s only $8 for a burger, fries and a large coffee…it’s not that much).  But I tend to always reach into the pocket of my backpack with the little cards that say “God loves you,” (because He does) with a dollar bill paperclipped onto it.  I figure it can get pretty lonely sitting on a corner asking for help.  Although I can’t do much for them all, maybe they need to hear that someone loves them once in a while.  Sometimes that alone is worth more than all the nickels and dimes they get.
But more importantly than any of this, I stop my car, look them in the eye and say to them, “Have a nice day.”  Sometimes I ask if there is anything else they need, like blankets or a jacket in the winter, but they have never taken me up on that (yet).

What kills me, if I’m going to be honest, is that every one of them replies with, “Thank you and God bless you.”

Every time.

I always drive away thinking how backwards this is, because they should be the ones simply replying, “Have a nice day,” and I should tell them, “Thank you for your humility, and God bless you in your endeavors.”

I have a home, a loving husband who provides for our large family, a meal to look forward to every day, and a stable future I can depend on.  The least I can do is extend common courtesy to the people around me.

Look them in the eye, smile and say thank you.

The other day I was at the store picking up a few things for dinner.  Spaghetti, tomatoes, french bread…just easy stuff for the night.

The cashier’s name was Amy P. and I looked her in the eye and smiled when she handed me the receipt and I said, “Thank you Amy.”

The woman bagging my spaghetti was Shannon, and I looked her in the eye, smiled and said, “Thank you Shannon, have a good day.”

These are common courtesy behaviors we are drilling into our kids.  Amy P. did not have to find my name on the receipt and say, “Have a good day Mrs. Rockwood,” and Shannon did not have to pack my bags in a way that made them easy to carry.  Yes, they were at work…but this is not some cold, dictatorship country where workers are forced to do things under penalty of death.  People still have the ability to choose their actions and behaviors, and we all know that there are some people who do not take their jobs with a cheerful heart, and they make the experience painful for everyone involved.(insert many colorful anecdotes here)

It is crucial, I think, to extend the same kindness to those who make the effort to extend kindness to you; or even more importantly, to those who don’t know how to do this at all.

Now, this is all small beans compared with giving clean water to underdeveloped countries, or feeding starving children.  But if we can’t be kinder and civilized in our own lives, how can we expect to be of any help to anyone else?

The only way we can change the world…for the better…is to start with ourselves.  Here are some ways to rediscover the kindness of common courtesy in our lives, so we don’t irritate people to the point of insanity!

1. Look them in the eye, smile and say thank you. Do this with your coworkers, your family, nurses, waiters, cashiers…heck, do it with yourself once in a while.

2. Use people’s names.  Real life isn’t the internet, and the people you see aren’t anonymous.  If you know their name or if they have a name badge, say their names.  “Thank you Tamarah” is a lot more personal and kind than “Thank you.”

3. Get off your phone if you are with someone.  I don’t think we need to be ridiculous about phones, but some common courtesy needs to be implemented.  I think talking on the phone in public is not a big deal, but if you are visiting someone’s house and you can’t stop texting someone else, I figure it’s fair game to drag you outside by your ear and kick you in the butt for being so rude.  If someone is giving you their time, do not disrespect them by ignoring them in their house. (obviously it is acceptable to “step outside for a moment” to take an important call, just don’t make a habit of it)

4. Instead of talking about you, ask them about them.  I figure we spend enough time with ourselves as it is, it is probably healthy for a person to find out more about someone else for a change.  It also encourages relationships to be formed, common interests to be found, and you can hear about how they feel or what they think.  This isn’t a “never talk about yourself, ever” tip, but a general courtesy to extend to others.

5. Think about how what you say may impact the people around you. For example, I was part of a mother’s group for a while and we had a birthday coming up so I invited the few other people in the group to the party.  Pretty straightforward stuff.  It’s completely understandable when people can’t make it: everyone has busy schedules, especially with kids.  It is completely a slap in the face when the person explains that her husband didn’t want to come to our house because he didn’t like us, and go on to spend the next 40 minutes talking about the amazing party they went to over the weekend and  name dropping the elders of the church who were there with them the entire time.  It was impressive how offensive this woman was, and how alienated people in that church felt because this kind of behavior was so accepted.  Learn from examples around you, especially if they are dumb examples.

6. Be on time.  This is incredibly difficult for us because we have 14 feet in this house that need shoes, and sometimes it is not as obvious where, exactly, each of these shoes are when it is time to leave.  But if you are expected to be somewhere at a given time and show up late, you are telling the other person/group that their time is not nearly as important as your time.  And there is nothing that irritates me more than having my time wasted, especially by people who are hours (yes, hours) late.  What’s the point?

7. Leave on time. This is a smaller infraction, but it is also just as important to give your hosts a break.  You don’t want to leave to early and have the hosts wonder if they said something wrong, but you also don’t want to stay forever so the hosts try to figure out how to nicely ask you to leave.

8. Dinner Manners Matter, Especially at Home. Dinner time isn’t a highly formal affair at our house, but it isn’t laissez faire either.  Pray together as a family, sit at the table together, talk to each other about their days, enjoy the meal together.  We have a routine where we go through everyone and ask what was the best thing of their day, what was the worst thing, and then what was their (make up topic) thing…like, what was their wettest thing, what was their smelliest thing, was was their bluest thing.  Just to keep it fun 🙂  But people are not allowed to wear costumes to the table, even though that’s a bummer sometimes.  You ask for something by saying, “May I please…” and you say “thank you” if you are given something.  You absolutely thank the person who cooked the meal.  These are all very small ways to make sure everyone has a voice in the family, everyone is respected and it extends loving relationships between people.  And for the love of all that’s good, no TV.  Music, yes.  TV, no.

9. Do not talk about your money matters with people.  Unless it is very close family or extremely close friends, this will only end in strife.  Don’t talk about how much debt you have unless you want to be judged for your debt.  Don’t talk about the endless surplus in your bank account unless you want the other person to feel belittled by your wealth.  This is a very sensitive subject for people, and it is best to use the highest courtesy with the matters of discussing money.

10. Everyone has joys in their lives to some degree, and everyone has struggles.  Be a pal and don’t disregard someone else’s situations in favor of your own.  This is an issue of comparison.  Be happy for them when they are happy, and be empathetic when they are suffering; but never, and I mean really never, reply with, “that is nothing compared to what we went through…”  In the end, people share their happiness and their pain in order to create bonds with each other.  Couples who have children will share the incredible highs and lows of parenting together.  Women who have suffered miscarriages will have a bond of pain together.  People who have suffered from illnesses will understand the struggles of regaining health again.  People in the same industry relate with each other, etc.

Laugh when your friends laugh, cry when they cry, and be stronger for them both in the end.

Here are some books for further reading:


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