power in words and pictures

Picturing courtesy

Picturing courtesy

“We must be as courteous to a man as we are to a picture, which we are willing to give the advantage of a good light.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I want to look just like your picture of me,” she said. Smoothing a few wrinkles, removing a temporary blemish, and adding some light where there were shadows was all I had done. That photo editing software can sometimes work miracles.

What did Emerson mean to be as courteous to the person as the picture, you ask. Perhaps he was referring to the lighting in the room where a painting would hang, or as I’ve experienced the advantage of good software, but either way I feel certain his point was that the care we take in presenting a person in a picture should at the very least be the same level of care we take in how we treat each other in life.

Leaving our neighborhood is an opportunity to practice patience and courtesy. It’s something like a deathtrap with cars flying by from the left and right, while the drivers at the two stop signs wait for the opportunity to join the action instead of just watching it go by.

Two cars in front of me, two across from us, and the unthinkable happened. The car on the opposite side waved the driver on my side to go ahead. The next car did the same, the driver smiling as she motioned the car to move into the morning speedway. That is courtesy, and it is delightful to observe and even nicer to experience.

Researching studies and articles about courtesy, the first few I found all referenced the lack of courtesy in doctor’s offices by both the staff and the physician. Not to step on your toes, but if the shoe fit. If you are a person who has signed on to care for people’s health, it might behoove you to begin with caring for people in general.

The next few articles I found pointed to the percentages of people who say our world has a problem with courtesy and manners: road rage, cellphone rage, checkout lane rage,sports rage and even funeral-procession rage. By the time I finished reading those articles, I felt as if I might have a panic attack.

Panic sometimes sets in during the heavy shopping season before the holidays, making this an appropriate time to write and think about courtesy. It’s a great time to practice a little courtesy, too. By the end of the year we might all be feeling a little happier and a little less offended by the actions and lack of action from others.

After having worked at Castner-Knott department store as a teenager, I have since maintained that everyone should have to work with the public for one Christmas season. It might change their perspective on the importance of being courteous.

What does courtesy look like? Courtesy is a kind gesture, a kind word, and it begins with a kind thought. Our thoughts carry into our actions.

Where will you find it?  Despite what you might think, courtesy isn’t something only to be found in the department store.  It should be found at school, at church, at home, in traffic, in the coffee shop, and in your thoughts.

When will you need to practice it?   There really is never a time to not practice being courteous.

“Courtesy looks like many different things, but the easiest way to see it is to picture what you expect in other people’s behavior.”

As you go through the list of opportunities, you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement or you might be surprised at the ways of showing courtesy that you hadn’t considered. Why not see how many places you can practice being courteous today.

In your home: Courtesy is not picking up after yourself, that’s just common sense. Offering to get something for someone else while getting something for yourself is courtesy.

At work: Courtesy is not just doing your job, that’s what you’re paid to do. Helping someone who has too much on their plate when you finish your own work is courtesy.

In traffic: Courtesy is not being polite to the person who cuts you off because you were in their blind spot, that’s being understanding. Letting someone merge into your lane without losing your temper is courtesy.

At the store: Courtesy is not keeping your cart out of the middle of the aisle, that would be like thinking you could drive your car down the middle of the street — which you just know not to do.  Helping someone who can’t reach an item is courtesy.

In a restaurant: Courtesy is not taking the customers’ orders and delivering the food, that’s your job.  Waiting on your customer promptly, making them feel welcome, speaking so they can hear you, getting their order correct, bringing extra napkins, noticing when something isn’t as they expected and trying to fix it…those are all courtesy.

In a restaurant: Courtesy is not tipping your server, that’s what’s expected when you eat in a restaurant. Courtesy is not picking up after your child who has thrown food on the floor, you should treat it like your home. Thanking your server, tipping them more than the minimum or letting management know what a great job they did is courtesy.

On the phone: Courtesy is not being polite when you have a complaint, that should be expected.  Thanking the person on the other end for helping you or asking how their day is going is courtesy.

On social media: Courtesy is not when you choose to keep your most personal photos and stories for your closest friends, that is logical to keep private matters out of the public forum.  Saying that everyone who believes or votes differently than you is not courtesy either, that is rude. Sending private messages for a discussion that could prove embarrassing or heated is courtesy. Choosing not to share photos of another person’s poor choices is courtesy.

The first place on the list and in life that courtesy shows up is in the home and the last place is on the phone and social media. At home, examples are set for what will happen in the world.

On the phone and social media is where there is no face connected with what is being said, causing courtesy to sometimes to get lost. Let your thoughts, your words, and your actions mirror what you want to see in others. Let the light that falls on a person be as kind as a retouched photo.

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