I am tired of it all. I am done with being cut off in traffic when the other car entering the flow refuses to ‘zipper’ in, with being interrupted before I can complete a sentence, with reaching the buffet table and finding empty dishes because the guy in front of me took more than appropriate, with running out of the public park because dog owners de-leash their pets – a cannot tell by its gait that she’s friendly – and with neglecting to bag her poop, with having a door close in my face because the person in front of me sneaks passed the coffee shop door as it closes (as if they are auditioning for “Mission Impossible”) and with the general absence of please and thank you by society. Call me a curmudgeon if you’d like, but I am desperate for some common courtesy.
In today’s vernacular ‘courtesy’ is synonymous ‘free’ or ‘extra’ – courtesy calls from a service provider, courtesy vans from the auto body shop or courtesy phones found in hotel lobbies. But its original meaning had more to do with characteristics of politeness and manners. It is this latter definition that I miss in today’s interactions; I miss males acting as gentlemen and females acting as ladies. At some point in my lifetime, our culture shifted and began valuing entitlement and individual rights over mutual respect and civility. Many of the lessons I learned in elementary school – the practices of sharing, waiting one’s turn and refraining from unkind comments – are summarily ignored by a large segment of our population.
We need to be reminded of the words of Jesus:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12
This sentence, commonly called “The Golden Rule”, is perhaps the second most familiar statement of Christ (the first being John 3:16). God Incarnate told His followers nearly 2,000 years ago that we are to treat other people the way we want to be treated. With a greater or lesser degree of success, we all have been wrestling with our obedience to this command since it was first uttered. We attempt to work the angles, balancing our needs with the needs of others, often failing because we resolve the tension with faulty math: if I hold the door for one or two people, those two turn into an untold number; I then end up at the end of the line and face delays that no one should be required to face; therefore, I cannot hold the door for you. My needs are paramount.
But when everyone makes similar computations, and I fear that this is our present reality, Jesus’ words are ignored and no one is treated they way they want to be treated. Everyone does what they want and common courtesy is but a relic of the past, like hand-written letters and house calls. All is not lost, however, and God’s word will never return empty: if a few of us choose courtesy and champion kindness, the culture can change over time. Join me in following the golden rule; it might encourage other to do the same toward you.
Dear gentleman who drove behind me on Pope’s Hill Road on Monday morning,
Please stop beeping at the cars in front of you. Please stop expecting us to somehow move quicker; to drive over the vehicles and pedestrians so that those with bigger plans, such as yourself, can get wherever you are needed a few seconds sooner. Have a heart: there is still snow piled higher than most of the children who were trying to enter the elementary school on the left and there are still icy berms which were bottle-necking the entrance to the supermarket on the right. I beg you, in light of the historically snowfall we are all experiencing, lay off the horn.
I understand your impatience. Perhaps you needed to get to work or a doctor’s appointment and the combination of buses, SUVs and kids in the crosswalk which were causing your snail’s-pace progress was frustrating. I, too, was frustrated, trying to get my 7-year old son to school in such conditions, wondering if I would find a space in the snow clogged supermarket lot and praying that we’d safely cross the streets (knowing that patience is at a premium especially when there are harried drivers honking and hollering, “move it!”). Getting anywhere these days, especially at 8:15 in the morning, challenges a person’s civility. Even so, please stop using your horn as a means of relieving your aggression or aggravation.
Allow me the time also to apologize to you. At about the time of your 10th toot, or by conservative estimates 1 minute into our anonymous interaction, I made the concerted effort to lengthen our discomfort. I intentionally let every car go ahead of me that was waiting at the side street to enter traffic; I intentionally slowed and moved to the side to allow oncoming vehicles to safely navigate the narrow street; I intentionally stopped to allow the crossing guard to safely shuttle the children and parents back and forth in front of me. I am not proud of these behaviors and admit that they were childish but, in my defense, they added no time to your commute.
I hope you got to wherever you were in a hurry to go. I hope that you and your fellow commuters all arrived safe and sound to your destinations. I wish you no ill will. I only wish you did the same for those driving in front of you.
Finally, I want to thank you. As I mentioned, my 7-year old son was in the car with me. I was tempted, strongly, to give you a piece of my mind with great voice (or an unkind gesture involving my hand), but I refrained. Instead I chose to engage in a conversation with an impressionable mind about the virtues of patience and courtesy. If your rhythmic blares had not interrupted the everyday activity of driving my son to school, I might have missed that opportunity to instill in him the ways to act like a gentleman.
Stay safe. There are, as I am sure you are aware, impatient jerks everywhere.
A fellow traveler
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5