Friday, October 02, 2009

(Un)common Courtesy?

When I was a young man (in fact on the evening of my sixteenth birthday, and yes, its relevant that it was my 16th birthday) I was pulled over by a police officer for a number of violations. You see, I had just raced my brand new car (an '81 Mercury Capri) past this police officer at speeds in excess of 150 kilometers per hour... on a main city street. You don't need to say it, it was dumb. My first night driving my first car, I got into a race with a friend in a Fiero (for what its worth, I blew the doors off that little piece of crap car!). As we roared past the police officer (who was out of his car writing a ticket to someone else), I hollered out an expletive and decided, with my extensive driver training skills, that I could outrun or lose him (a highly trained professional driver) in some way.

So I received tickets for driving unsafely, for failing to stop at a stop sign, for failing to yield, for failing to signal... the list was long. All told, about $400 worth of tickets. First night in a car of my own.

Throughout my lengthy period sitting in the back of his car while he wrote me ticket after ticket, I was quiet and subdued. I'd been busted after all. He was just doing his job. When we finished our business, he shook my hand and told me that I had done my father proud. When I asked him what he meant by that, he told me that I had been the politest person he had ever written a ticket for. He laughed and told me that he hadn't been called sir so many times in his life.

I think that, because of this basic courtesy and respect that I showed him, I got off very lightly indeed. He would have been within his legal rights to have my car impounded, and likely could have cost me my licence. Conversely, I did not blame him for the tickets, for stopping me, or for the massive humiliation I was undergoing (my friends were waiting in my car for me to get back) - he was simply doing his job.

So we both won. Me by not losing my car and licence, him by getting a week's worth of tickets in one sitting. And we both treated each other with some basic courtesy and respect.

Why did I relate that? Because it is the last point in my life where I can honestly say that I experienced true courtesy under anything resembling stressful circumstances. It made a very significant impression upon me and all my life I have tried to remember that treating people with basic courtesy, even if you are extremely upset, with basic courtesy can go a long way. Granted, I am not always successful, but its worth a try, isn't it?

Now, what prompted this ramble down memory lane? Lots of things actually. Lately though, more than ever before, I am noticing that certain acts of basic decency are being passed over. Chances to make our fellow humans' lives easier are being skipped. Whether its the young men on the bus who do not stand when the pregnant lady gets on the bus and there are no seats, or the ignorant woman in the gym who moves the fan so that it blows only on here, or the jackasses smoking inside the clearly labelled no-smoking area... people are missing a thousand chances a day to just be decent.

Decent. Compassionate. Friendly. Respectful. Courteous. Good words to live by.