March 2002
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Whatever Happened to Common Courtesy?
By: Beverley Yu, Grade 13, Father Michael McGivney School, Markham, ON

Mother always told me to remember to be courteous to people – hold the door open if someone is coming behind you, cover my mouth when sneezing, not to talk with my mouth open, always say those "magic words" please and thank you, for example. And in school, teachers reinforce these notions by always insisting to say, "I don't know, CAN you?" when I did not remember to use the words "may I." These are simple rules, if you will, enforced by social norms to live by. It's the bare minimum of manners and politeness. But yet, I notice that many people today seem to have completely disregarded this silly little undemanding concept we like to call common courtesy.

These so-called "magic words" may be the most important words in the English vocabulary. Saying "please" and "thank you" is not going take excessive energy, so why is it that many people today have completely wiped these words out of their vocabulary? A situation I was in comes to mind, which was the stepping-stone of my enragement. It was in the cafeteria line-up one afternoon, which essentially is where manners are thrown right out the window along with yesterday's lunch menu, with almost everyone wanting to get their food as quickly as possible hence a lot of pushing and shoving as you might have guessed. However, it was rather empty at that particular moment, as it was toward the end of the lunch period. I was minding my own business and waiting to pay for my lunch when one of the chattering girls behind me dropped a coin into the dusty corner near my feet. Instinctively, I bent down and almost crawled in with the dust bunnies under the counter to pick up her quarter. I got back up and handed her the coin with a smile. Yet, there WAS no "thank you" nor a "thanks" and not even a smile of appreciation but instead, just a blank face. I was appalled and frankly alarmed about what had just happened. Could it be that people no longer found the "need" to be polite and say "thank you" when needed?

Another situation I was in just recently obliged me to write this article. As I was nearing the door a few steps behind another girl who seemed eager to get inside the school building, I was faced with yet another downfall of individuals in society. With only a step and a half behind her and her obviously acknowledging my presence, the girl opened the door just enough for a body's width to slide through quickly. Needless to say, I was greeted with the door slamming back in my face a second later. There was no consideration of anyone else - the self-centred attitude seen much today, slowly leading to a digressing society similar to the prehistoric ages where it was ‘each man for themselves'.

Now I may sound like I'm ragging on youth – however, it's not just youth, it's the adults as well. Adults have the largest influence on youth. Values and ideals are transferred to children through what they have been taught and what they see from the adults in their lives. This influence also exhibits for them what is acceptable behaviour. With these ideals and concepts, they go into society putting what they know to action in various situations. You can bet that if a child grows up seeing their guardian being discourteous and ill mannered, then that exact attitude will be reflected on the child.

A few months ago I was sitting on a bench waiting for my mother to arrive after doing some shopping. As my mother was approaching, I got up from the bench to greet her but planned to sit back down afterwards. In comes a lady in her late forties who noticed I had gotten up and assumed that I'd be leaving. Did she say ask if I was leaving so she could have my seat or even wait until I was not standing right alongside the bench? No, rather she literary shoved me aside and hollered "MOVE!" to me. Revolted, I left the premises instead of taking a stand for myself. When I look back, I wish I could've handled the situation better and informed her that her rude behaviour was unacceptable even if she WAS my "elder." And to think, the "elderly" say teenagers have gone awry and lack respect. You have to earn respect to get respect.

Obviously, I am far from the poster child for manners. But, most likely, neither are you. We all have made mistakes in our lives and hopefully have learned from them. This article is not to preach everyone to become the next "Ms. or Mr. Manners" nor am I expecting everyone to obsess over every little discourteous act. A little contemplation on how you may be affecting others and reflection on how you are presenting yourself to people in your actions is all I ask. Perhaps, just that little change in attitudes may be what improves our humanity in the long run.