It is raining in New York. Because this is a walking city, rain means many umbrellas on the sidewalk. Yesterday, when I left work, I decided to walk a bit and enter the subway at a different location. I needed to clear a few cobwebs from my brain. While walking along at a not-too-busy point, covered only by my raincoat hood, a woman approached from behind me and hit me in the head with her umbrella. She said nothing. I turned and said, “Really?” To this, she responded, “Oh. Sorry.” She knew she’d hit me with her umbrella and chose not to say anything until I engaged her.
I am not a wallflower. I will address someone if that person has failed to acknowledge what has happened, or failed to acknowledge a courtesy extended (e.g., when I hold the door and he or she walks through without acknowledging the act). Obviously, I addressed this woman when she chose not to address me. Thereafter, I questioned, somewhat loudly, why the exchange went as it did.
In my opinion, this is not how we should proceed. This is not how we should act.
My son is seven years old. I work diligently to teach him courtesy. Holding the door open for someone, giving up a seat on the subway or bus to someone who needs it more, saying “please” and “thank you” are the basics I hope he is learning. If there comes a time when he has a cell phone, I will not allow him to hold a conversation with another person when he is wearing headphones (which I see occurring daily, much to my dismay). If he does something wrong, big or small, I teach him the importance of saying “I’m sorry.” Why am I working so hard at this? Because the loss of courtesy appears to be driven by the need to be first, the need to always be right, the inability to see an apology as something other than weakness. Fundamental insecurities are driving these responses. But, this does not have to be.
If we are kind and respectful of others, if we take a moment to be courteous, to say “please” and “thank you,” to apologize when we do something wrong, no matter the size of the infraction, we are recognizing our role in an encounter, and we are recognizing the role of the other person or persons in that encounter. This is a good thing. In this world, you have the ability to fully control one person: yourself. If we want this world to be different and better, we must start by acting differently. Being courteous is a simple step.