Is “common” courtesy in critical condition? I think it might possibly be. One can only speculate on the cause. Is it that we’re living in a post-Christian, post-modern world? Is it because people don’t care about how they treat others? Certainly this is part of it, but I don’t think it’s the whole story.
I have plenty of young friends (I’m OLD–nearly 50 ) who are as loving and well-meaning as it’s possible to be. They’re Christian and secular, city and country, far-left and far-right, but I’m convinced that none of them has any desire to offend or to be discourteous in any way. Yet many of them do discourteous things and seem to have no idea they’ve inconvenienced anyone. My best guess is that they just don’t know any better.
Maybe (probably) both of their parents worked full time or their parent without a partner worked more than full time. In a case like this, once a kid gets out of day-care, the main influence on his life is peers who also don’t have a lot of training, teachers who don’t encounter the opportunities to teach the courtesies common in the past, and television, movies, etc., which aren’t into including anything that doesn’t directly advance the plot.
So courtesy, that invisible oil that makes society work smoothly, gets left out of the mix. A person who hasn’t been taught that he needs to put oil in his car’s engine isn’t going to do it. He’s not trying to destroy his vehicle–he just had no idea he needed to periodically check and change the oil. He’s not stupid. He simply didn’t know to ask and nobody thought to tell him. After all, everyone knows you need to keep oil in your car and everybody knows how to treat others with consideration. Don’t they?
Treating people courteously is a way of showing love, and love is the center of who God is and who He wants us to be. Courtesy is treating others as we’d like to be treated. Most everyone has heard the Golden Rule . . . “Treat others the way you’d like them to treat you”, yet we sometimes need a little help in pointing out how to implement it in our lives for the blessing of others.
In the interest of changing the oil in a few suffering automobiles, I’d like to offer some tips for treating others with not-so-common courtesy.
- Have you said you’re going to do something? Then do it. Don’t wait until the last minute and then back out. The lady who’s running the Vacation Bible School this year has enough to do without finding out at 10:00 a.m. that you’re not going to bring the snacks you promised for Tuesday morning because you had a chance to move your dermatologist appointment up and now you don’t have the time.
- Have you promised to do something and now you realize you can’t? Call and let someone know. Don’t let them find out you’re not coming when you don’t show up. Or better yet, find someone else to do the thing you had promised to do.
- Have you promised to come to the men’s Bible study at 6:00 a.m. and it’s now 5:30 and you really don’t want to? Do it anyway. And if you absolutely can’t come, call the leader and let him know. What if everyone else has already cancelled out and he’s headed to McDonalds only because he doesn’t want to let you down?
- Has someone invited you to their home for a meal and you’ve been pondering over whether to accept? Make up your mind. She’s got her plans on hold, waiting to see what you’ll decide. And when you do decide, give her a call and let her know. Don’t expect her assume that, since you didn’t call, you’re not coming.
- Have you been invited to someone’s home and enjoyed a meal and an evening of fellowship? It’s your turn now. Unless you can’t stand your host and hostess and can’t tolerate a minute more in their company, you should turn around and invite them to your home. If that’s not possible because of financial constraints or other reasons, arrange to meet them in the park for hot dogs or peanut butter sandwiches. They’re trying to build a relationship with you and aren’t really interested in the food or the fine (or not so fine) dining arrangements in your home.
- Do you have a dog who’s absolutely wonderful and loved by everyone? Try to leave him at home when you go visiting–even if you’re visiting your parents for a weekend. They’re not used to having a dog–or at least another dog–around. It causes awkwardness and problems for everyone, including your family pooch.
- Do you want to visit your parents or other relatives? Don’t just give them a call to inform them you’re coming. Ask. And if, for some reason, they say no, accept that without argument. They’ll be a lot more inclined to welcome you when you do come. Whatever you do, DO NOT show up unannounced.
- When you’re staying with someone, help out with the chores. Clean up all of your messes; make your bed and strip the linens when you leave; put things back where you found them; help to wash the dishes (or wash them yourself); buy a sack of groceries if you’re eating with your host (or even if you’re not, you might show up with some snacks to enjoy together); watch your own children–don’t expect your host or your host’s teenage kids to do it for you; if your host does do any babysitting for you, say thank you–even if its your mom or dad and you’re sure they love doing it; When it’s time to go home, leave a thank you note–it will do wonders for your chances of crashing at your host’s house next time you want to.
- When visiting, do not do chores that don’t concern you, such as dusting or cleaning the toilets, unless asked. Your hostess may well take this as a silent criticism of her housekeeping methods even though you only meant to be a blessing. If you’re at the home of an elderly person and you notice the dusting or the mowing or whatever hasn’t been done and you know it’s hard for them to keep up with these chores, you might politely ask if you can do some of these jobs. Otherwise, unless you’re staying for an extended time, leave these sorts of chores alone. If the house is honestly so dirty you can’t stand being there, get a motel room next time.
- Finally, treat your close family and friends as politely as you would treat a stranger. Here in the US, we have a real problem treating strangers with anything less than great courtesy, yet we think nothing of saying rude things, usurping the personal property rights of, and inconveniencing our nearest and dearest. Treat your family as though you really do love them (even if you can’t stand them) and life will go a lot more smoothly for everyone.
There are many, many more things I could add to this list. The bottom line is love. Think. Always hold the comfort and convenience of others as a priority. If you don’t know, ask. Do keep in mind that this is a list made with US culture in mind. A few of the things may change when you take a trip to the UK or Pakistan or Tahiti or China, such as the sorts of chores you might be welcome to assist with. Keep your wits about you, though, and you’ll be that light to the world Jesus intended you to be.
Some of the situations I’ve mentioned are things I’ve observed or experienced in the past, but most of them are made up or are things I’ve heard other people talking about. None of this is mysterious or hard to figure out. It’s all, basically, love. It’s the Golden Rule. If we, as followers of Jesus, take time to think, we’ll know the right way to treat others.
Grace and Peace,