Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 27, 2003
Courtesy opens doors and hearts
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Most of us take courtesy for granted. We extend it in a mild way by holding doors open, or saying "please" and "thank you," or letting somebody with a single item go first at the grocery store. And we notice it when people don't do these things, when a driver cuts us off or someone plays a radio so loudly it hurts our ears.
Still, I don't believe we often appreciate the potential power a simple act of courtesy can exert on people. Not long ago I read about such an incident concerning the respected religious and civil rights leader Desmond Tutu, which turned into a life-changing moment.
As a boy, Desmond Tutu saw firsthand the evils of South Africa's apartheid system. Injustice and indignities were the norm.
One day, as he walked down the street with his mother, a white Anglican priest politely stepped aside and tipped his hat to Tutu's mother. Surprised, young Desmond asked her, "Why was that white man so nice to you?"
She replied, "That man is a minister of the Gospel. People like that are courteous to everyone."
Desmond Tutu later said it was at that moment he decided he too would be a minister of the Gospel. He did. He also became an Anglican priest, later archbishop, and a world renowned and respected human rights advocate and winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize.
Now, I'm not suggesting that every time you say "Have a nice day!" it will change someone's life. Yet there's no doubt that we all have a far greater influence on others than we credit ourselves.
We are part of a human community and while we think of ourselves as pretty self-sufficient, that's not really the case. The littlest acts of courtesy and kindness are life-affirming gifts and, of course, that applies to the reverse: the smallest barbs of thoughtlessness, rudeness and pettiness cause wounds that can last a day or a decade.
Who would ever want to admit to being thoughtless, rude or petty? The other guy maybe, but not me! If we are inconsiderate, it's only because we've been provoked. If we tell people what we think of them, we're just being frank. Sound familiar? We all have our mean moments. But it's nothing to be proud of - and no way to live.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has some thoughts on being more aware of our connection with others, too: "You can't be a solitary human being. (We're) all linked. . . . Because of this deep sense of community, the harmony of the group is a prime attribute. And so you realize that anything that undermines the harmony is to be avoided as much as possible.
"Anger and jealousy and revenge are particularly corrosive, so you try . . . to enhance the humanity of the other, because in that process, you enhance your own."
The consideration and civility we share makes our world a bit less difficult, a bit more grace-filled for us not only as individuals, but as members of one human community - children of our Divine Creator. "The grace of God is in courtesy," said the writer Hilaire Belloc. It's true, and it's worth remembering whenever you're tempted not to make time for courtesy.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: email@example.com.)
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