(49.) Social Grace: The Need for Common Courtesy

(49.) Social Grace: The Need for Common Courtesy

(49.) Social Grace: The Need for Common Courtesy. 

“There are no ‘ordinary’ people… You have never talked to a mere mortal… It is immortals whom we joke with, marry, snub, and exploit…”  (C. S. Lewis).

Christian schools are not charm schools. They don’t necessarily worry about proper etiquette. Who cares, really, if you lift your pinky finger when drinking your can of Diet Pepsi? Much of what passes for good etiquette and charming behavior is just an insincere, superficial attempt at a certain upper-class image that has little everyday importance.

Instead of proper etiquette, though, Christ-centered schools do need to major in common courtesy. Do we really need to be polite and respectful during our busy school days together? The short answer is Yes! Good manners are the first step towards a vital Christian virtue: unselfishness.

Unselfish politeness is not that easy though, because our culture is going in the opposite direction. Look at the popular commercials intended to sell products… Indulge yourself; Have it your way; I like what you do for me; Looking out for #1; and so many more self-oriented tag lines. Our self-centered society has been loud and clear in giving us all one big message: Consider yourself more important than anyone else. Make sure you please yourself before anyone else. And so, everywhere you look, courteous manners are mostly seen as silly, uncool, or a sign of weakness.

But the truth of the matter is that simple courtesy actually is cool. It really is important for all of us to be considerate of others. Civilized countries have always used sincere politeness as a way of measuring one’s education and maturity level. What’s more, civilized manners are the best way of heading in the right direction as a believer and enjoying school as a true company of friends and neighbors.

Did you realize that everyone of your neighbors is a unique work of art created by God, the Master Artist? That’s right, your classmates sitting next to you, your teachers in the classroom, the janitors cleaning your floors, are each made in God’s image, are thus born of nobility, and carry God’s fingerprints. Each person you see deserves your respect and thoughtfulness, not only in what you say and how you say it, but also in what you do and how you do it. Think about this… everyone you rub shoulders with every day is an eternal being, not a mere mortal. Every neighbor is a sacred being, a child of God carrying God’s breath, and so is to be treated as royalty.

So how do we go about learning to treat each other with common courtesy? The first step is simple but difficult: Lengthen your attention span with those around you: Look to the interests of others before yourself; grow in being considerate in the little things each day; allow others to be different and still cool and a potential friend; pay attention to what is going on outside your own sweet self. What follows are words to the wise. Practice these words with each other every day, and your school will be full of grace and truth, just like the Master Artist Himself.

TALKING THE WALK: Vocabulary Words for Friends and Neighbors

(1.) Yes and No. 

Believe it or not, there is a more respectful way of answering in the affirmative and in the negative. The official version of Yes and No, especially to an elder, is far more respectful than the usual yup, yeh, nope, nah, and the occasional look-away grunt. A full-fledged Yes or No makes the person feel respected and worthy of a language better than street slang. All it takes is practice and basic courtesy.

(2.) Please and Thank You.

Maybe this is too obvious, but it is still important. Both of these expressions reveal a humility that reflects something about your character. Please reveals you as someone who doesn’t expect the world to revolve around your every wish. And Thank You simply shows that you are truly grateful for whatever comes your way. These two expressions actually reveal quite a lot about yourself.

(3.)  You First and May I Help. 

What could be more unselfish than simply allowing a neighbor to go before you when trying to do the same thing at the same time? Whether it’s the doorway, or a drinking fountain, or in a class discussion, deferring to the other person speaks louder than words. Offering to assist others in some way shows your respect for them too. Learn to look for ways to help your neighbors, especially in the little things.

(4.)  I’m Sorry and Excuse Me.

A sincere apology shows others that you care how you affect other people, and that you are humble enough to admit your mistakes. Excusing yourself is much the same thing, depending on the situation, whether it’s accidentally interrupting someone, or unthinkingly yawning in someone’s face in the middle of a conversation. Sincere apologies help heal fractured friendships and go a long way to making the peace.

(5.)  I Forgive you and Let’s Forget it.  

The most difficult and mature thing to do with other people is to forgive and forget. And yet, there is probably nothing more important. None of us are very good at this, so we need to ask for God’s help. Ask God to help you let go of grudges, to have a short memory. Ask for help to have patience with someone else’s faults, just as you would like others to be patient with your faults and mistakes. Showing grace to others in their weakness is essentially allowing them to be human.

(6.)  I Like You but This isn’t Right. 

It certainly isn’t easy to stand up to a friend. But what if you might save that friend from making a bad mistake in judgment? We need friends and neighbors to confront us, to stand up to us, to keep us honest. In fact, positive peer pressure is an important sign of a healthy relationship and a healthy school. Think of this… We’d never need school discipline if we helped to keep each other in line. If you see someone walking down the road in the wrong direction, the most loving thing you can do is help them get going in the right direction.

(7.)  I Disagree but I’m Listening. 

It’s okay to disagree, but it’s not okay to close your mind during the disagreement. Learn to listen to what others are saying before you offer your own opinion. It’s the polite and respectful thing to do, and you will probably end up learning something in the process. Be open, and tell yourself, I could be wrong, but this is what I think. Honest, civilized disagreements result inn neighbors who truly listen to and learn from each other.

(8.)  I Respect You because You’re My Elder. 

One idea that has lasted since the beginning of time is this: Respect and honor someone who is older than you, or who is placed in authority over you. Why? For one thing, obeying your leaders on earth is good practice for obeying God in heaven. Obeying earthly leaders gives you a sense of what it takes to obey the Leader in heaven. Also, generally speaking, those who have lived longer than you, who have more life experience than you. will probably know more about life than you do. They deserve your respect and your openness to following their lead. Of course, if the leader is asking you to do something wrong, absolutely do not follow their lead.

(9.)  Firm Handshakes and Good Eye Contact.

First impressions are important. A strong handshake and direct eye contact speaks loudly when being introduced to someone. A respectful Nice to Meet You confirms a positive first impression. Have you ever shaken hands with a cold fish who disrespectfully looked down at the ground? Please, work hard at being respectful during introductions. This goes for you too, girls. Good friendships and respectful relationships most often start with offering a confident greeting that respects the other person.

(10.)  Pretending For Real. 

What if you don’t feel like being polite or courteous? We all have those days when we are in a bad mood and don’t really care about common courtesy. Here’s a little secret: Pretend. It often is true that the best way to get a good attitude is to start acting as if you already have it. If you are not feeling particularly friendly someday, but you know you should be, the best thing to do is put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you really are at that moment. You’ll soon find yourself feeling friendlier! This is not bad pretending, which is dishonest and insincere, but good pretending, which is knowing what is right and doing it even if you don’t feel like it. Remember that these acts of self-discipline may change your outward actions for the better, but only God can give you the sincere heart to match up with your outer actions. God can give you the purer motivation for common courtesy. Ask God daily to change your heart for the better. If you cooperate with Him, He will gladly do so.