Courteously Yours

Author: Clifford Martis

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Courtesy is the milk of human kindness. It is the lubricant which helps social interaction. True courtesy is a genuine desire to help - irrespective of the cost. We have a saying “Courtesy costs nothing” This is only a general statement. It tries to show that courtesy is only a way of talking sweetly. In fact courtesy costs a lot. Courtesy costs commitment. If you say to someone “What can I do for you please?” you make a promise and commitment to help to solve his problem. Sometimes you may have to go beyond your own social circle or work and area and get things done for the other person. If we value courtesy as a great virtue then we must be prepared to pay the price for it.

Courtesy is not mere lip service. It is true, genuine and it originates from the bottom of the heart. Another word which is similar to courtesy is cordiality. Which takes its birth from the Latin cordum - meaning heart. Therefore courtesy and cordiality are matters of the heart.

If courtesy is practiced merely as lip service it may give rise to unpleasant results. A hotel wrote a very sweet letter to a customer who complained of bugs in the hotel room occupied by him. The letter offered copious apologies and described the numerous steps taken to get rid of the bugs and appealed to the customer to visit the hotel again. The customer was all but won over but due to sheer oversight his original letter was pinned to the apology letter and someone had written ‘Housekeeping – please send our usual bug letter’.

When should we be courteous? When the other person, be it a customer or a visitor or a stranger himself is very polite it is easy for us to respond courteously. But the test of courtesy arises when the other person is not so polite or humble. Dealing with an irate customer requires great patience and a downright commitment to courtesy. An important thing to remember on such occasions is that the customer’s impatience or ire is not addressed to us personally but the real cause is his disappointment or frustration at the turn of events. In such situations we should not take it as a personal affront or as something addressed to us in our personal capacity. We should detach ourselves and try to look at the situation dispassionately. We should try to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person.

There is no doubt that the people manning very busy counters, particularly cashiers facing crowds will find it difficult to be courteous. The nature of their work is so stressful that it may take herculean efforts to remain cool and calm and still flash a smile all at once. Nevertheless it is on such occasions that courtesy is most needed and most appreciated. As someone said, Virtue is virtue only when it comes into conflict with vice” Very courteous and pleasant cashiers or counter clerks are not impossible to find.

Shakespeare said that mercy is twice blessed. It blesses the one who gives and it blesses the one who receives it. Similarly courtesy also is twice blessed. Apart from the words of gratitude the giver gets from the receiver, he also enjoys a deep satisfaction of helping someone in need. It may be useful to remember how eagerly we look forward to courteous and helpful treatment when we have to go to catch an emergency flight or we have to go to the hospital for an emergency. What kind of service do we expect when we go to the railway ticket reservation counter or to the RTO office or to the rationing office?

Courtesy has a special significance in telephone communication mainly because we don’t see the person with whom we are talking. In view of this there is a greater tendency to lose ones bearings and get irritated or annoyed. Sometimes we don’t like the other person saying “Who is speaking?” if he had called earlier. Nowadays there is prerecorded music as relief for the person who has to hold the line. Another point is how we respond to a wrong number call. This matter calls for much courtesy and helpfulness.

Courtesy has a very special role to play when we have to say ‘No’ to someone – either a customer or a door to door salesman. People do not mind so much about courtesy when their job is done. But when we are not in a positing to help a customer or visitor, for whatever reason, we are disappointing that person. It is here that we should try to show utmost courtesy. There is a poignant story about Leo Tolstoy who used to give alms to a beggar regularly. One day Tolstoy forgot to take money. When he saw the beggar got down from his carriage and holding the hands of the beggar said, “Brother I forgot to bring money today.”The beggar said, “You called me brother. What more do I want!”

The common man often feels that courtesy is two way traffic. A give and take matter. If you approach me courteously I will definitely respond nicely. But if you wag your tail I know how to deal with you. Does anyone feel that he ought to be courteous with others simply because it is a very good thing? Would anyone say in his mind, “I am courteous to you irrespective of your behavior? I believe in courtesy for courtesy’s sake. My courtesy is my precious possession.

The Sunday Times 30 th April 2017 mentions that in modern times courtesy has taken a back seat due to the use of various gadgets like a phone or a computer screen. People are texting more and talking less. These trends call for a serious look at courtesy.

On a certain occasion a man was passing through a flush door. He saw a lady following him. So he held the door open for the lady to pass. The lady who was a champion of women’s lib said, “Sir you need not hold the door open for me because I am a lady. “ The man replied politely, “Madam, I am not holding the door open for you because you are a lady. I am doing it because I am a gentleman.”jcomments on}

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