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Friday, October 21, 2005
"Common Courtesy": Is there such a thing anymore?
Wednesday, I related my experience at Sonic this week with the waitress who felt entitled to a tip and held out her hand to let me know I could give her one. Interestingly enough, I followed up the research on this last night by stopping at a different Sonic, closer to home for some ice cream and the waitress there brought out my ice cream, made my change and was set to head back inside, all without demanding a tip. In fact, she was genuinely surprised when I said, "Excuse me," as she turned away and gave her a tip.

She also thanked me for the tip and we both went about our separate lives--me home to have ice cream and unpack groceries (golly what fun) and her to continue delivering wonderfully good but incredibly bad for you food to the fast-food eating public.

But, I digress.

In considering the events of earlier this week, a thought has been lurking in my brain. (Well, in between thoughts of just how in the name of all that is good can UT beat Alabama tomorrow....)

It has to do with "common courtesy."

Now, I'm pretty sure most of you have heard by now that a new study came out last week that finds that most Americans percieve their fellow Americans as getting ruder. This, of course, prompted all kinds of hilarious asides from various radio and TV personalities like "Oh really? Who asked you?" etc. I don't think we're exactly delving new ground here to say that manners and common courtesy are on a decline. I've sort of been noticing this for years now. Again, I blame the proliferation of cell phones for this, simply because it seems as if when people put a cell phone up to their ear, their ability to perceive that there is anyone in the world outside themselves drops noticeably. I think I've commented in my blog on a couple of occasions about those people at the Y who seems to think that getting on the machine and shouting into a cell phone over the machine you're using is somehow endearing them to everyone around them. Again, cell phones were a status symbol 10 years, not so much. Indeed, I really feel kind of left out because I only have one cell phone--guess I'm not really all that important.

The other day, I was in the library and I saw a sign as I was browsing the books. It basically said--if you're going to talk on your phone, please go to a designated area, away from where people might be trying to concentrate. Now, to me, this just seems like common sense. I mean, you're at the library, a place that is generally hushed, reserved and quiet. In fact, I've even gone so far as to turn my phone onto vibrate at the library so as not to disturb my fellow patrons or those who might be studying. But I will say this--I have noticed at some libraries where they don't have these signs, it can be like a circus sometimes. Especially around the computers with access to the Internet. Before I got DSL at home, I would often stop by the library to use the high-speed access and nine times out of ten, I'd get to sit down next to someone whose phone would ring and then they'd sit there and talk in the loudest voice possible about...well, whatever it was. I honestly tried to not eavesdrop as I wanted to have some semblance of courtesy but it's hard to do when they're yelling right next to you.

I guess I'm weird becuase I am aware that I'm not the only person inhabiting this planet and, contrary to my belief most days, the world doesn't necessarily revolve around me (except on Jan 19th each year when it's my b'day and by golly, it's all about me!).

It's almost to the point now that you could get easily frustrated trying to show courtesy to your fellow human beings. I'm a lap swimmer and nine times out of ten, I'd prefer to have a lane to myself. Ask most lap swimmers and they'd probably agree. But I understand that a lot of times when I'm able to swim laps is at peak times for lap lane usage and that sharing laps is just part of the deal. If I'm swimming laps and I see someone come in, I will generally ask if they'd like to share my lane and make sure we agree on how the lane will be shared--I prefer splitting it down the middle, each person to his/her side to avoid having to figure out how to pass or if one swimmer is stronger than the other. And, honestly, I swim about the same time every day, so there is a set group of people you see on a regular basis (since I swim without my glasses, I tend to identify them by appearance and the type of bathing suit they tend to wear). And I guess maybe it's me or maybe I'm expecting too much, but I sometimes get irritated when people I've shared a lane with on numerous occasions will ignore me when I am standing there, waiting for a a lane. Or worse yet--if they do stop and you ask if you can share, they say no and keep on going. There's one in particular who I refer to as lady in the Speedo bikini who was there one-day waiting for a lane and lamenting that she "always" shared her lane if needed and why would no one share with her. Little did she realize that I'd asked to share once and she said no as she was saving the lane for her I guess technically she was sharing, but just being selective. It was funny that no one would share with her until the lifeguard made them and then suddenly a guy I know offered to share his lane, telling me he didn't want to share with her becuase of her refusal to ever share a lane with anyone but her hubby if she got the lane first.

But it doesn't just end with sharing a lap lane. I will admit I try to be courtesy and polite in most of my daily life. I mean, I am sure there are times when I'm not, but I hope these are the exception rather than the rule. I try to be polite to people and to thank people who help me, such as the guy who stamps my parking validation at the downtown library or the person who checks out the books or the person scanning my card at the Y. And maybe I'm old fashioned, but honestly--it doesn't take that much effort to hold a door for someone from time to time. Now, if you're holding the door for 20 minutes waiting for someone to walk across the parking lot, that might be a bit extreme, but you get what I'm saying. But I can't tell you how often I've held a door for someone the past week or so, only to get glared at or nearly run over becuase they're bothering to look where they're going. Or how some people don't understand that when you are coming out a door and you can't see behind it and you almost run into someone, that saying "Excuse me" is not a way to jusify barrelling forward as if the person weren't there and you were trying to run them over.

And yet people wonder why Americans as a whole seem to get ruder. I think a lot of it is that we're so much more self-absorbed than we used to be. It's harder to really think outside of ourselves and realize--holy cow, I share this planet with billions of other people. And there are times when it's tempting to just say, "To heck with it" and be a rude, cantakerous person like a lot of other people I encounter. But then I think--no, that's letting the bad guys win. And who knows? For every ten people who don't like that I've held a door, want to share a lap lane or turned my cell phone onto vibrate or off in the library or a movie theater, there may be one who appreciates my showing some common courtesy toward them. That I've looked outside the box that is Michael and realized--hey, we can all get along, if we just take a bit of time and work at it.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 10/21/2005 01:41:00 PM | |
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