Practising Common Courtesies : The Distinguishing Mark of A Cultured Gentleman or Lady

Increasingly these days, in the fast paced lives that we lead and in shouldering our many career and family responsibilities, many people seem to have  forgotten  the practice of observing basic common courtesies. We see this phenomenon in our families, in offices, among friends and especially so on our roads and highways.

Have we slowly but surely lost the art of showing consideration and common courtesies to one another? Is the kiasu ( me first ) culture so predominantly entrenched in our society that we can somehow dispense with the need to show common courtesies? These are questions that matter and we should give them serious consideration.

In our interactions with one another, regardless of whether it is in the family, the office, the club, society in general or even on the roads, the distinguishing mark of a true gentleman or cultured lady is his / her adherence to the observance of basic common courtesies. Sadly, this is fast disappearing from our society.

Common Courtesies in Marriage

One does not get married, for instance, once all problems are solved. Rather one marries another because of a real love and in order to build a life together, to face challenges and problems together and to look to the future with joy and hope. That is the starting point.

Love in all its manifestations, before marriage, is actually something like beautiful poetry but the daily struggles of adjusting to this shared life together can sometimes seem like mere prose! But couples should realise that love is a relationship that will grow and ought to mature over time. It is built in the same way that we build a house. We build a house and then a home on a solid foundation of true love… not alone but together.

Pope Francis recently said:

You would not want to build a marriage on the shifting sands of emotions, but on the rock of true love, the love that comes from God.

The family is born of this love that wishes to grow. As one builds a house, a family should become a centre for affection, help, hope and support unconditionally.

Common Courtesies in our Interactions

Let us take a few common everyday examples that we witness. You are at a bus stop waiting for the arrival of a bus. It arrives and before a few passengers can get off the bus, a crowd swarms in front of the entrance. They then block the exit and begin to jostle to get on the bus… without thinking that they should make way first for the passengers who are disembarking.

This scene is then repeated when you are trying to get on the Light Rail Transit coaches when they arrive at your station in Kuala Lumpur or Petaling Jaya. It is also repeated with the same annoying frequency when you are trying to get out of a lift in an office or apartment block. Why is this happening with such frequency and inconsideration? It is as though these impatient and thoughtless individuals, in a zombie like state, have left their brains at home!

Inconsiderate Behaviour on the Roads

On our roads in the cities across Malaysia, we also see many examples of such thoughtless and selfish behaviour. This sort of behaviour is not restricted to some young, hot headed males. One can also see increasingly many instances of young women behind the steering wheels of their cars cutting dangerously into the lane of another car without even signalling their intention to do so! Then again, we also see senior citizens, who ought to know better, showing such impatience on the roads.

Once again, this dreaded kiasu mentality has affected so many Malaysians. Why is there this lack of basic courtesy among our people? Do they take on a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality once they are behind the wheel of a car? Why can’t these drivers signal properly in time so that others know of their intention? If the other driver gives way, why can’t the one who has been shown such courtesy, acknowledge that act with a wave of his hand.

And of course, no one but no one beats the Malaysian motorcyclist for his almost total disregard of traffic laws in this country. Even when motorcycle lanes have been provided for them in many instances, they choose to ride on the roads in a dangerous fashion, often zigzagging and overtaking cars from either the left or the right as they please. They also often disregard traffic lights.  The motorcyclists are also seen blatantly riding against the flow of traffic in many one way streets! For the more foolhardy among them, they even organise illegal races on certain stretches of a particular road late at night. While doing so they create a mighty din and entertain the crowd that mysteriously gathers at these stretches with dare devil stunts.

The Magic of Please, Thank You and Sorry

Living in a society with many races and religions can be a tricky affair. But it is also a challenging situation which offers many opportunities to show that we can journey together in a patient, considerate, thoughtful and fascinating way. The onus is on each and every one of us to be more patient, more thoughtful and more considerate. It does not matter that the other party is being obnoxious. That is his choice… born out of frustration, ignorance and impatience. You can choose not to descend to his level of crass aggression and crudity. It is much better to consciously set your own high standards and maintain them regardless of the provocation or the circumstances.

Please, for instance, is a kind word that indicates your request to enter into the life or space of someone else with respect and care. When we make a sincere request for something, by adding the word please, we soften the request in a gentle way to enable the other party to respond positively.

Likewise, true love does not impose itself with aggression and violence!

A wise man once said: 

Courtesy is the sister of charity. It extinguishes hatred and kindles love.

It follows, therefore, in our oftentimes arrogant and violent society that there is a need for even more courtesy.

A sincere and well expressed thank you is expected when you are at the receiving end of some act of kindness. Yet how many times have we forgotten to express this sentiment in time and with sincerity. Do we know how to say thank you? In our relationship with our wife / husband, our colleague / boss, our neighbour or even with the postman or delivery personnel, we should always express thanks for an act of kindness or thoughtfulness. Thank you is not merely a kind expression to use with strangers but it is just as important to say thank you to your wife, colleague, boss or friend as the case maybe.

Sorry is not the hardest word. But for many obstinate individuals, it seems to be a near impossibility to express their contrition with a sincere apology. In a well known movie, ‘Love Story‘  produced many years ago, starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, it was claimed that ‘Love means never having to say you are sorry‘. This is sheer baloney!

In our lives with our better halves, we are prone to make many mistakes, act harshly at times and sometimes be inconsiderate. We are all guilty of these lapses in good behaviour. In such instances, when we come to the realisation of our mistakes, we should promptly and in good time, sincerely apologise to the other party without reservations. That is the mark of a mature human being.

Likewise, too is the need to apologise promptly and sincerely for a wrong doing at our place of work or even in society in general. Often, we show false pride and refuse to admit our mistakes and therefore offer a sincere apology. We sometimes think it does not matter. It is, however, important and critical for our intellectual and spiritual growth as a human being to readily recognise our mistakes and to thereafter apologise to the party concerned. It is not a sign of weakness. It is, rather a sign of maturity! If we learn to apologise and forgive each other, then the relationship is strengthened over time.

It is, therefore, in our own interest and that of society in general, that we should make it a practice to show common courtesies to one another as a way of life. One of the greatest challenges of modern living is learning how to manage multiple relationships… regardless of whether these relationships are at home, in the office, in the club or in the neighbourhood association. Observing and practising common courtesies is the first step in that direction.


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