How To Make Uncommon Courtesy More Common

How disjointed have our lives become that even the simplest displays of common courtesy have fallen into the gutter?

I don’t mean the simple, unavoidable pleases and thank-yous. For the most part, they’re still there; you still hear mothers reminding little ones to use the magic word. Although, these days, there seems to be a ridiculously high expectation of getting what one wants with its use.

What I mean is the overwhelming condition of entitlement enjoyed by what feels like everyone except me.

When and how did that driver get the idea that it was accepted practice to make a right-hand turn from the left-turn lane in front of two lanes of traffic just as the light turns green?

When did it become acceptable for two adults walking along the sidewalk to force my two daughters, courteously walking single file in the opposing direction on the right hand side, to have to step out on to the road to pass?

When did we throw away the rules of the road in the supermarket? Everyone stay to the right except to pass, through traffic has right-of-way over turning carts, etc.

Why do I have to wait on hold for 23 minutes just to ask my cable company how to reduce the number of rings before my phone goes to voicemail, only to be told to go to the the website? And then, to find that the answer is not on the website and have to spend another 18 minutes on hold to finally get an answer, have to hang up the phone to take the advice and then realize the answer was wrong. Why does this guy even answer the phone?

Why is it okay to drop a pair of eyeglasses on the floor of the dollar store and walk away? To throw garbage on the ground two feet from the garbage can? To empty a vehicle of a back seat’s worth of trash in the middle of the road? To let your children swing from the branch of a two year old tree? To smoke pot in public? To smear dog feces all over the playground slide? To park your cars on the street instead of in your perfectly good driveway? To let your dog run loose on my front lawn while my poor dog wrecks the living room trying to protect his territory from the window?

While I realize the problem seems to be spreading worldwide, and everyone has their theories as to how society is changing, causing fractured relationships and apathy, I believe there is no place on earth where the problem is more prevalent, more obvious, than in Canada, land of the polite.

And that is the problem.

People – teens, kids, adults alike – do or don’t do the right thing – okay, here it comes, and you’re not going to like it, but it needs to be said:


It’s that simple. We see inappropriate action or inaction, and we say nothing. We don’t honk our horns at the driver. We meekly step onto the road to allow others to pass. We don’t take the time to report behaviours to employers. We step over the merchandise on the floor, look away, say nothing.

We allow others to behave the way they do. We may go home and rant via Twitter, but in the end, we say nothing.

At least most of us say nothing.

I would like you to know that I do not stand by idly writing posts about people who annoy me, endanger my kids, or just behave like insolent children.

I say something. I swallow my anger and pull out my manners. I embarrass the heck out of my kids.

“Excuse me, I know you meant to hit the garbage can, but the wind caught it. (Pointing at the offending trash.) You wouldn’t want anyone to think you did that on purpose.”

“Excuse me, do you need help picking those cans up and putting them back on the shelf?”

(Loudly.) “Girls, that is a perfect example of adults using bad manners. They should have let you pass on the sidewalk. Do not walk on the road.”

(HONK, HONK! – Wagging a finger, not flipping one.)

If we all let others know what we’ll put up with and what we won’t, those who offend will eventually learn what they can get away with. You’d be surprised how many people have just fallen into a lazy sense of distraction, but who, when called to task, are quite willing to do the right thing. Barely a day goes by that I don’t use my Mother-Tone to correct someone who is not my child. And in all honesty, only twice have I ever been met with conflict. (Once by an eighth grader with whom the ensuing conversation led to a terrific friendship, and once by a 50-something-year-old woman in the dollar store, who, after arguing with me about the fact that they have staff for that, caught the attention of many other shoppers and eventually picked up the glasses. Mind, it did take me another fifteen minutes to find my kids, hiding behind the shopping carts wishing they could die of embarrassment.)

What do you think? Do you say something when you see someone commit a behavioural offense? Would you? If not, why not? Share your thoughts -leave a comment under the date at the top of this post.

2 thoughts on “How To Make Uncommon Courtesy More Common

  1. Oh, I most definitely honk at the traffic lane-jumpers, and my big peeve in my area: people who seem unable to keep their car in their own lane. If your wheels are in my lane, I honk.

    Cell phones: more than once, I have said something to rude cellphone addicts who hold up lines by blathering away on their phones rather than showing the cashier / clerk the courtesy of their full attention (hmm, there’s only about a 50% chance they even notice it). I once scolded a woman for chatting on her phone in the public toilet stall next to mine (just waiting for someone to video-Skype from a toilet stall… probably already been done…). I also once scolded a young man in a car-repair waiting room who was treating us all to his half of a loud and colorful cell-phone argument with his girlfriend: “Seriously? We don’t want to hear it.”

    Shrieking kid in a movie theater, and the parents won’t carry him out? “Excuse me, some of us are trying to watch the movie.” If that doesn’t work, I get the usher. If THAT doesn’t work, I get my money back and leave, and make sure management knows why. Shoppers blocking the aisle with their carts? I say so. And I am a small woman but I have more than once allowed my shoulder to bash the sidewalk-hog coming the other way, and then I innocently say, “Oh, oops, sorry.” Or even, “Hey!!” which makes THEM say they’re sorry.

    Hey, if you’re oblivious to what you’re doing, or think no one notices? Yeah, I noticed, and I’m here to help! It was not always thus, but I have noted the same decline in common courtesy that you have, and while I try not to over-impose, I sure am tired of always being the one to “give.” So screw ’em. I get my half of the sidewalk. Move over or get bumped.

    God, I am going to be the most irascible old lady ever.


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