Where have courtesies GONE?

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The Oxford English Dictionary defines courtesy as polite behavior or action. The four most common, but often forgotten, words that reflect polite behavior are “please,” “thank you,” “sorry” and “excuse me.” It is said the world would be so much a better place to live in if people added these words to their daily vocabulary. So, why wait till tomorrow? Why not start practicing courtesy from today and make the world a better place to live in?

Being courteous is not difficult provided one shuns arrogance, assumes humility, and learns to respect the feelings of others, insists Jagmohan Chopra

Remember that scene from the film Mughal-e-Azam? A guard announces: Ba Adab Ba Mulaiza Hoshiaaaar. Jille Elahi, Shan-e-Hind, Shahenshah Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar Padhar Rahe Heiiiin,  and everyone in the court bows to pay respect to the most powerful Mughal emperor of all time. Would you call it courtesy on the part of those present in the court? Many may think so, but not me. Paying respect to someone responsible for your welfare is entirely different from doing so to someone in everyday life.

Courtesy means different things to different people. On one end of the spectrum are the two famous Lucknowi nawabs who miss their train saying pehle aap, pehle aap to each other. On the other are scores of present-day youth, restless to the core, yelling into their mobiles, driving like hell, pushing, shoving, and trampling people on the way, paying scant respect to the convenience of those around them. While travelling in the Tube in London not long ago, I was shocked to see seated men avoiding eye-contact with standing ladies, the elderly and the infirm to ensure themselves a comfortable ride back home. This behavior on the part of men is common in most Indian cities, but seeing it in the capital of England took me by surprise and made me say to myself: “Where have courtesies gone?”

What are the most common kinds of courtesies? Where are they taught and by whom? Is courtesy limited to offering a seat or right of way to ladies or the elderly only? Why have common courtesies become uncommon?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines courtesy as polite behavior or action. The four most common, but often forgotten, words that reflect polite behavior are “please,” “thank you,” “sorry” and “excuse me.” It is said the world would be so much a better place to live in if people added these words to their daily vocabulary. Similarly, the two most common actions that uphold courtesy are “smile” and “handshake.” A smile has often been described as a curved line that can straighten many a problem, but how many of us use it? A handshake, on the other hand, conveys a lot about the feelings you have for the person you are shaking hands with. Holding someone’s hand firmly conveys you are happy meeting the person you are with. But have you tried shaking hands with a know-all-be-all bureaucrat? You’ll be lucky if he lets you hold three fingers for, more often than not, all you will get to touch are one or two. Nobody taught them to act like that. Yet, it is their way of conveying a self-assumed superiority, the anti-thesis of courtesy.

Everyone has the right to talk. But shouldn’t we give others a chance to talk too by listening to what they have to say? Everyone has the right to pray or party, but does the sound or music have to be at a volume fit for 1,000 people when only 100 are present, causing inconvenience to everyone around? How many times have you heard your elders say you must knock on the door before entering a room that is not yours? But do we do that? I am reminded of a colleague and friend, a blue-eyed boy of our boss, who once entered the boss’ room without knocking, only to find him in an amorous situation with another colleague! Although he pretended he hadn’t seen anything and bolted out of the room, that one knock he missed delivering on the boss’ door, cost him his career.

Why don’t people smile and exchange pleasantries like they used to, or when they do, why is it always in the middle of an aisle or road, often at others’ inconvenience? A study of human behavior blames  TV, movies and the media which portray foul and rough behavior as being “in” or “cool.” Another study blames the aggressive attitude of our target-chasing, stressed-out youngsters, but I feel it has more to do with a person’s upbringing or environment. Parents are keener to bestow “knowledge” on their children rather than “virtue,” or the art of “speaking well” rather         than “doing well,” although their offspring manners should be of greatest concern to them. A child whose parents are courteous towards others is most likely to show courtesy towards others. Likewise, a person who moves around in an environment where courtesy is the call of the day, is most likely to follow suit.

Being courteous is not difficult provided one shuns arrogance, assumes humility, and learns to respect the feelings of others at home, office, in the neighborhood or on the road, irrespective of their age, sex or economic status. The key to  being courteous is to put others before self. So,  why wait till tomorrow? Why not start practicing courtesy from today and make the world a better place to live in?

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