It wasn’t that long ago that men held doors open for women and always made a point of being, if not chivalrous, at least gentlemanly, a virtuous image in itself.
Polite, courteous and respectful language was used between the sexes, and even to a reasonable extent, in all conversations, except perhaps in high school locker rooms.
There’s no small amount of confusion these days about who would hold a door open for whom, so few doors are held open any longer for anyone and more doors are shut on more and more people because of the confusion, which is the opposite of a virtuous image.
But aside from chivalry or gender confusion for that matter, there is a virtue and power in courtesy, kindness and respect.
Grace lives in courtesy
When people take the time to exercise patience and virtue in respect to each other, rather remarkable problems can be avoided and inspiring challenges can emerge.
Courtesy is the mark of a Christian knight. To be more than a mere warrior, a man must be gallant in considerateness as well as courage. In late medieval literature, the exemplary knight is decked not just with iron mail, but with the whole armor of the virtues, of which courteous chivalry is the helm.
…The secret of chivalry was in the soul.
So offers John Saward in an article on The Grace of God in Courtesy.
In looking further into the subject, one sees that courtesy is very much considered a quality of grace and of the soul. Courtesy isn’t a matter only of holding doors open for another or other kind actions of similar sort—that’s surely good but the superficial side of the story. Courtesy has the deeper qualities of kindness, respect and grace.
If one were religious or spiritually-oriented, one could say, for a deeper meaning, that courtesy carries a near a beatific quality.
This deeper quality, conferring a sense of virtue, is important to the next point of how we can conduct diplomacy among leaders to avert and avoid the rudeness, harshness and madness we see displayed on the world stage today. If our communications instead were infused with kindness, respect and the courtesy leaders should qualify for, the chances of them running amok with each other would be commensurately reduced.
Unfortunately, too much of society, especially in politics, has become the art of mud-slinging instead of the art of showing respect to each other’s colleagues and countrymen.
We can turn this around in ourselves (we can all stand to be kinder and more courteous!) and the world will turn with us.
The Hindu concept of “Namaste” is inherently kind, respectful and courteous. It is acknowledging “The Divine in You is the Divine in Me”. Everyone is accorded respect and everyone wins.
The practice, practicality & ancient traditions of courtesy, kindness & respect
Courtesy opens space between people, be they political leaders, captains of industry, policemen or bus drivers.
Courtesy is an expression of respect and includes a dose of kindness by definition.
When one is courteous, one is according respect and inherently acknowledging the value of another.
Traditional Japanese culture exemplifies according respect to elders. Respect is accorded to everyone, the degree of which is in direct relation to their standing in the family and society. One of the ways in which this is expressed is in the depth of the bow.
Japanese culture, largely modeled on Chinese tradition, embodied the practice of according respect based on the teachings of social philosopher Confucius, whose body of work centered on maintaining healthy relationships in family and society, all based on respect.
Application to the outer world
Imagine that the President of the United States treated the Presidents of Russia and China with the respect he himself wants to be shown. Imagine that he showed the kindness, respect and courtesy that a leader traditionally commands by dint of his office.
This acknowledgement has the power to shift the conversation from one that could be verging on hostile and war-like to one of interest, warmth, even a sense of trust and safety along with good cheer, maybe even a laugh or two.
The extent to which a conversation can be conducted between heads of State to establish this sense among them is the extent to which someone has the skill of a leader. In short, a measure of a leader is his ability to conduct such a conversation.
Again, the Hindu tradition offers us the phrase from Sanskrit, “upaya” or skillful means. This is one’s ability to skillfully navigate the many twists and turns in human thought, feeling and behavior, to navigate with some wisdom in the world.
The mental state of safety is a natural outcome of being treated with respect, courtesy and kindness. It is conducive to more fertile exchange, deeper listening and greater empathy. All of these are the hallmarks of a fruitful, diplomatic exchange.
When one feels that he is being looked out for, that his well-being matters to another, the dynamic changes to trust and points toward favorable outcomes.
I am suggesting that when this quality of courtesy, which embodies these other virtues, is genuinely expressed from one’s deeper sense of being, the probability of success is increased multi-fold.
Apply this to diplomacy on the world stage, to industry and business leaders and apply it to husband and wife, parents and children all the way to one’s professors, neighbors, plants and pets, that is, to all beings and to Mother Earth Herself.
At the end of the day, it’s an exchange of positive energy. When that exchange carries with it the quality of kindness and courtesy, inherently respectful, the space opens for the unexpected miracles of life to blossom. We all know what it’s like to be with someone who you feel understands and appreciates you. They are not there to be judge and jury, but rather to enjoy your presence and acknowledge it through their attitude toward you.
Courtesy, kindness and respect also reflect an attitude toward life itself. It is to other people as it should be to planet, our very own Mother Earth.
Reinvigorating reflection, simplicity, kindness & courtesy. Everything does not “go”
The role of courtesy and its importance is far under-rated in our fast-paced, rough-and-tumble, “anything goes” kind of society, where so many feel that they can say anything to anyone in the name of free speech. Social media has exacerbated this lower tendency as has the news media and, sad to say, frequently barbaric, in-the-gutter political discourse.
Political discourse has always been troubled, true, yet with at least a veneer of diplomacy.
Since Trump’s foray into politics, any semblance of respect took a nose dive, hostility has gotten the upper hand, and divisiveness has become the order of the day. It didn’t start with Trump, no, but it was severely increased and deepened as a threat to a more civil society.
I suggest that we have not yet fully recovered from the coarse discourse that has since dominated our society across the board since that Administration and our society has been crumbling since, yet not at all without hope of re-building.
This article is an effort to revive, reinvigorate and re-build these traditionally sacrosanct virtues, the degradation of which has led directly to the degradation of discourse in our society and society itself.
One of the ways Rome collapsed was caused by people no longer effectively communicating with each other, no longer understanding nor respecting each other.
They stopped attending to and upgrading physical and linguistic infrastructure.
It is not true that it doesn’t matter what we say—it matters greatly, as well as what we do.
The people on the maintenance staff where I live in NYC wear a T-shirt that says on the back “What we do matters”. Even the seeming ‘smallest thing’ matters, yes, picking up an item of trash and placing it in a trash bin. It makes a place more beautiful.
It may be legal that we can say anything to anyone but it’s not without real world consequences. It may be statutorily legal, even constitutionally, but may not be lawful according to a higher set of principles found in what we could call spiritual law.
This article is a call to us all to uphold and extoll the roles of kindness and courtesy and to dignify them as in “the days of yore”, when it was an inherent aspect of human communication and exchange as the Saward quote at the beginning of the article conveyed during Medieval times.
When sense of self slips away, so does society
So many people have so lost a sense of self, lost a sense of self-esteem and dignity in our fast-paced, largely outward-oriented lives. Self-reflection and times of inner quiet in general or when walking in Nature have been lost altogether or at least marginalized.
Younger people have hardly had the opportunity to develop a sense of self before they’ve been swallowed up by the indignities and insulting warfare awaiting and ambushing them in social media. This has led to so many teens questioning the value of their very existence. Such self-doubt to lead to a scary number of teenage suicides.
The compensation for ‘feeling low’ is often to “puff up” like a peacock, where ego substitutes for a loss of real self-esteem and self-worth. A tendency emerges then to put others down so one can lift oneself up, but this is short-lived. Humpty-Dumpty comes crashing down soon.
Kindness kindles kindness in kindred spirits
His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that if people did nothing more in their lives than to be kind to others, they would have lived a meaningful and useful life.
With something as simple yet gracious, inherently kind, as courtesy, it could make a world of difference. The wisdom of courtesy, kindness and respect needs to be applied to the places in which it is most sorely missing, the omission of which causes others so much suffering and pain. Where, you ask, might that be?
Applying courtesy, kindness & respect in politics & business
How about in the body politic, in the body of finance and industry? The word corporation is based on the Latin “body”, and more accurately, “a dead body”. Along the same lines, the word mortgage comes from the Latin: “dead pledge.”
One can understand the importance of bringing the life-affirming virtue of courtesy into the space of “dead bodies and pledges” on which much of our economy is based!
Politicians and captains of industry who are fighting with each other and those they perceive as their adversaries, are often doing so to give themselves a sense of purpose and meaning, funny as that may sound. They define life as “a fight, a war you have to win and then to climb a ladder of success”. But there’s no real winning or success in the climb to speak of because they cause so much harm to others—there’s no real winning from the spoils of war.
If these perhaps originally well-intended people would remember the Golden Rule and the wisdom of Confucius as well as the teachings of virtually all wisdom and indigenous traditions East and West, society wouldn’t be predicated on ‘dog-eat-dog’ and ‘win-lose’ but a whole other way of being where everyone can win. I don’t mean in sports, but I do mean on the court of life.
Just imagine President Biden having the maturity (not just the age) to reach out to President Putin and to President Xi Jin Ping and saying “Gentlemen, let’s meet in person. The subject of our meeting is how we can help each other’s people, environment and economy instead of trying to rip each other apart and dividing up the world as the spoils of colonialists, a scenario in which we and all People lose. Shall we cooperate as thoughtful, caring, kind, courteous and respectful people and turn this insane arrangement around?”
What a different world we would have. How difficult is that? The egoless man, a real man, smart and with heart, can make this happen.
That is the wise and humble application of the virtue of courtesy, kindness and respect that traditional and indigenous people knew all along.