Thursday, September 11, 2008

Uncommon Courtesy

I consulted with my wife in writing this blog post on courtesy. I brought her into this discussion because she got the Courtesy Award in seventh grade. All of the teachers in the school unanimously voted her the award recipient. I didn’t get that particular award. She’s a pro. She told me, “My name is Cile Fullerton and I approve of this article.”

Common courtesy is uncommon it seems. Last year I started a letter the editor of the St. Petersburg Times to call people to common courtesy. I was challenging parents to model and teach their children good manners and respect. This may seem trivial in comparison to the world’s problems, but I suggest there is a spiritual foundation of courtesy that starts in Genesis 1 with God imprinting value on all humanity. Lack of courtesy ignores that indelible mark of God. Showing courtesy acknowledges it.

Other-focused common courtesy and good manners are waning in our day. Self-interest is what matters. Last year, Cile and I traveled back from Seattle. Our flight was delayed by the storms and the young man behind us was obnoxious. He beat on the seat, muttered under his breath, burst out with occasional expletives and, in general, irritated fellow travelers. The flight attendants watched anxiously. I thought a fight was going to break out. The young man’s impatience, immaturity and lack of respect were built on some 23 years of habit. His big problem: HE was inconvenienced. It didn’t matter that 299 others were just as inconvenienced. He didn’t care about anyone around him. HE was all that mattered.

That raises another spiritual issue. Courtesy, manners, respect for others indicates that we actually care about other people, even those we don’t know. There a generous spirit with courtesy that stands in contrast to a pervasive “what’s in it for me?” mindset. Courtesy costs something. Spiritually mature people care about others and will make sacrifices for the well-being of others. Rude people are basically big, selfish babies. All that is lacking is a big pacifier and diapers.

With that, let me share some suggestions that other-focused, mature Christians ought to internalize and live out.

General Courtesy
  • Help someone who needs it. Pick up something when it falls out of that stranger’s hand. Offer to carry groceries, get out of people’s way when they are in a rush, check on someone in crisis, visit the lonely, help the poor… the list goes on. This goes beyond just thinking about others. It involves action.
  • Apologize. This one amazes me. Other-focused, mature Christians increase, not decrease with apologies. But wow, good, clear apologies are few and far between. This month’s Wired magazine said “heroes never pass the buck, so learn to say you’re sorry like you really mean it.” Three steps to a good apology: (1) Come clean quickly (no denials or equivocations a la Bill Clinton), (2) take the rap, and (3) made good on the wrong.
  • Clean up after yourself. Put clothes or products back in the stores when you decide not to buy. Clear your place setting at home. Don’t litter. Pick up your clothes if you have others at home. Do you really mean to send the message, “You clean up my mess because that’s your job.” People who don’t care about others think exactly that.
  • Don’t use profanity. How would you like it if a six-year-old dropped the f-bomb constantly? The reason we don’t like that is because we don’t want to associate innocence of a child with foul language. And yet if an innocent, pure spirit is a goal of godly living, why would ANY Christ-follower use profanity?
  • Don’t degrade the opposite sex with your words, attitudes and actions. They are created of God just like you. Treat them as equally valued and beloved. Build them up and honor them in every way. Inappropriate humor is just that: inappropriate.

Boys/Men Courtesy

  • Open the door for your mothers, sisters, girlfriends and other women. Cars, stores, home, church doors… open the doors. By the way, you can do it for guys too.
  • Stand when those same women leave or enter the room. It shows your respect for them.
  • Keep your eyes in check. Look at their faces, not their body parts. Don’t treat women as a piece of meat. If you want to see meat, go to Publix and see the beef and chickens.
  • Save the body noises. They are part of our physiology that common courtesy dictates you keep to yourself.

Girls/Women Courtesy

  • Treat your bodies respectfully. Don’t show everything with which the good Lord blessed you. You don’t have to dress like a nun, but modesty is still a virtue. Most girls don’t know about the principle of completion. The principle of completion is where a girl shows a little skin and the boys “complete” what is not shown in their minds.
  • Have a little class. Think Katherine Hepburn—poised and put together. Body noises, slouching, trash-talking, base language, girl fighting, and being a slob at the table are all signs of a girl who needs a little class. This isn’t a factor of money as if only wealthy people have class. After all, look at Paris Hilton.
  • Remember you are a woman. You can do all that men can do, but you do so as one created uniquely female. Don’t flaunt your femininity, but don’t hide it either.

Basic courtesy may seem a small thing compared to war, famine, poverty, abuse and other world issues, but courtesy is the outward expression of a love for God and others. It is an expression of your life in Christ. Let your love for others show. Be nice, have good manners, and show a little uncommon courtesy today.