Courtesy and Respect. Are we losing ground?

“These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness, and worship without awareness.” Anthony de Mello
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Courtesy. Respect. Kindness. Forgotten fundamentals.
There are many events in history we can undoubtedly pen as building blocks of this country. Valor. Courage on the battlefield. Skyscrapers. Inventions. Industrial progress. Technological and digital advances. But what we don’t often think of when we are considering forward progress and advancement in this great country we live in, is how such fundamental behaviors as courtesy, respect, and kindness figured into that equation. Were these behaviors absent in the early settlers of America? When The Great Depression of the 30’s was king, and later, when economies rebounded? Were they completely nonexistent when the largest allied effort ever-set foot on the beaches of Normandy, France in the fight against the most evil triple axis of the 20th century? Were these basic behavior characteristics not present when women were given the right to vote in 1923? When battles were fought, wars were won? When railroad tracks blazed a line westward, when cell phones were invented, when civil rights were forged with blood and tears, when canals were dug, when a country adorned the trees in their front yards with yellow ribbons, when championships were lost and won and when gold medals were donned and the anthem played? Were they absent when Apple Macintosh debuted their first computer? When scaffolding was a sign of growth, and when families ate dinner around the table together? Was kindness, courtesy, and respect a part of this nation’s infrastructure that grew at maddening speed out of deliberation and hard work? Did courtesy and respect ever in our history play any part of the exponential growth of this young country into a world power? Did it? Or was it only IQ and a drive for money that saw such progress? Is the equation in retrospect only brilliance (IQ) + satisfying basic needs (making money) = present day world power? I don’t think so. Common courtesy most certainly did not always accompany our every effort. Neither kindness or respect could be seen in the brutality that often accompanied our country’s expansion. The very lack of kindness, courtesy and respect, in a large part, prompted the fight for civil rights in the 60’s and later. But I think at every juncture, at the center of every campaign and effort set forth in this country, there were both common and extraordinary people whose efforts exuded kindness and respect as virtues necessary for progress. Moms, Dads, school teachers. Soldiers, preachers, and common laborers and yes even politicians. Neighbors, children, teenagers, parishioners, store clerks, and doctors. But somehow we have suspended the need for such common courtesies. Thank you. Please. You’re welcome. Can I help? Friendly driving. Holding the door open for someone. Looking the person in the eye when you speak to them. Answering messages. Good morning. Good evening. Listening before speaking. Respecting authority. Showing interest in others. It’s almost as if we have unilaterally decided that we have come so far and now have so much, that kindness and courtesy is no longer required or necessary for growth and progress. As if that were the only reason to show respect and courtesy to others. It’s as if we have replaced these traits with the need for vengeance, self entitlement and paying back wrongs with wrongs. When I substitute teach, I am often aghast at the lack of respect afforded subs and teachers alike. Just driving from point A to point B affords a lesson in how to be rude and selfish. Even at church, kindness and genuine openness seems to be a challenge for many. Sadly Christmas shopping seems to bring out the worst in so many whose season of peace and good will is completely lost in the madness of being the first in line. Go through the list of common courtesies named in the sentences above. Somewhere along the way, we have failed as parents, teachers, preachers, neighbors, drivers, builders, expanders, innovators, coaches, presidents and as human beings to show and to teach others the virtues of common courtesies and yes, the success that accompanies that. Most importantly when we fail to value these common fundamental behavior traits, then our children fail to value them. And so in this department, we fail our children. Our children are truly the future. We may raise kids who are successful in business and in athletics, but will we raise kids who are able to see the value in kindness, not only for themselves, but for the continued growth and health of this great country that we live in? Are the two connected? I think the answer is a resounding “yes!”

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