Can we agree that society as a whole seems to have grown rougher over the past decade or so? In an age when we—and our interactions—are increasingly digitized, anonymous, and remote, the tendency to become even more concerned with only ourselves has hit the roof. Due to September being National Courtesy Month, I thought we all could use a self check-up to see if we remember how to show common courtesy in some basic ways.
Be on time.
We’re all unexpectedly delayed from time to time. There could be a massive traffic jam, or an unexpected phone call from your kid’s school or a relative. But is there any bigger way to be disrespectful than chronically showing up late to work, meetings, social functions, and dinner reservations? When we habitually make others wait for us, the message is: My time is more valuable than yours. Period.
Being time courteous includes not only punctuality, but also proactive communication of any delays (that means before you’re supposed to be there). In a work setting, that means not taking more of people’s time than needed (i.e. resisting the urge to ask lengthy questions in that Friday afternoon meeting. Speaking of meetings—could this just be an email?)
Do not groom thyself in public
We’re not talking about sitting on a secluded bench and applying eye shadow (Though, please stop doing that while driving. It makes us all nervous.) What we’re referring to is the things like clipping your fingernails in public.
There’s nothing like trying to read and being repeatedly jolted by the sound of metal violently snapping hard keratin in half every five seconds. The same edict goes for plucking eyebrows, spitting hangnails willy nilly on the ground, putting on nail polish and—say it ain’t so—applying deodorant. Please. Save those things for private.
Let people finish their sentences
We know, it’s hard to bite your tongue and wait to react when people say exciting, disagreeable, or boring things. But we must. We can’t just help ourselves to the front of the conversational line, cutting others off mid-sentence. All that does is not-so-subtly convey: What I am saying is more important. Shut up. The aggressive dominance isn’t a good look.
In a meeting, write it down. In a social setting, honestly, you might forget what you wanted to say. And it’s annoying. But would you rather be momentarily annoyed, or look like you know what other people have to say?
Ah, the lost art of the timely RSVP. How we miss you. If you’ve ever hosted an invite-only party—or a wedding—to which people did not RSVP and still showed up (with a plus one!), you’ll know the pain of the non-replier. Making a host reach out to guests to find out if they can attend is a headache they don’t need. They have food to order, drinks to obtain, help to line up. They need to know how much of all these things. Help them out. RSVP. By the date they ask—or your relationship may be cancelled.
Don’t park like a jerk
Do we all take a little extra time when parking to make sure we’re between the conveniently located white lines of our unique spot? Great! Because we have some choice words for those who roll up quick and hop out while their car takes up two spots, or rests diagonally over the line, rendering it nearly impossible for us to squeeze ourselves, much less our kids, out the door. And we all put our shopping carts back in the cart return, right? Because unless you’re racing to the ER, there’s no reason to leave it in a parking spot, messing things up for everyone else.
Exhibit minimal table manners
We don’t have to know how to set the table for the Queen of England, but we all do need know how to chew silently—with our mouths closed—so innocent bystanders cannot hear the inner machinations of our saliva as it breaks down food. (This goes for other mouth noises such as teeth sucking and tooth-picking in mixed company.) The “reach across” for food is a no-no; as are elbows on the table. (If someone in your life needs help learning this lesson, feel free to borrow my mother’s method of poking the offender’s elbows with a fork.)
Put the phone down
Let’s face it: Most of us are addicted to our smartphones. If we’re not holding them, we’re thinking about when we can hold them next. And if we are checking them, know what we’re not registering? Anything the actual living, breathing person in front of us is saying. We all, collectively, need to get better at putting the phone away in social settings—no not just face-down on the table. That’s cheating. Put it where no one can see it and feel threatened that we value our phones more than their presence.
Replace the toilet paper roll (and other cohabiting things)
Ah, living with others. Fun, isn’t it? While we are social beings who thrive in community, that thriving works better when the people you live with are courteous. This means taking it upon themselves to do small things when they need to be done—without being asked. Things like: replacing empty toilet paper rolls, putting the toilet seat down, unloading the dishwasher, picking towels up off the floor, and not just leaving pans “to soak” indefinitely.
Talk quietly in shared spaces
Nobody likes a cell-yeller, or hearing about Timmy’s math tutoring, or the issues you’re having with Janet from HR. Nobody needs to hear whole conversations about your personal life when they’re trying to get a little shut-eye, or just forgot their headphones. And speaker phone? That’s a hard no—unless you’re at home or in your car. We fear no loud talkers will see this, or be aware they actually speak freely at annoying decibels, but alas, it must be said. Sshhh. Pipe down, Bradley.
Respect others’ personal space
Are you a close talker? What about a close waiter-in-liner? It’s always been a good idea to leave people space to exist without a stranger breathing down their neck. In COVID times, even more so. If a stranger can hear that you need to blow your nose, you’re too close. Back up and spread out, everyone.
Say thank you
You know that feeling when you hold open a door, give someone the right-of-way when it’s really yours, or say “bless you” to a stranger, and you’re met with silence in return? Nobody likes to feel like their kindness, however small, was unacknowledged. It’s a small thing, but it can’t be said enough: expressing gratitude will never go out of style. (Neither will holding doors open for others, regardless of gender. Let’s all keep doing that.)
Don’t be a jerk online
Online behavior is usually left out of the courtesy conversation but it warrants inclusion. In an age when it’s increasingly accepted, even encouraged, to criticize, mock, shame, and otherwise sneer at nearly everything posted online (even babies, I tell you, literal babies) it’s important we take a step back and ask: What do I gain by posting this? If I encountered that person in real life, would I say this to their face?
If the answers are (a feeling of smug superiority) and (no) rethink before posting. We can’t solve world peace, but we can be a little more civil, one less troll comment at a time.
Resource: Most Common Ways You’ve Forgotten to Show Basic Courtesy