Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"When did Common Courtesy become Uncommon?"

Most people understand and experience life as a difficult adventure peppered with challenges and setbacks that test our mettle.  As Superstorm Sandy runs aground, I ask the question...

"When did common courtesy become uncommon?"  

Case in point, last week, an elderly woman ahead of me at the checkout line at the local grocery store realized that she had forgotten her purse and was unable to pay for her necessities.  Judging from the items in the cart, there was an apparent urgency to her shopping trip and the checkout clerk was rather impatient and lacking in understanding.  The woman was upset to the point of tears when I stepped in to ask how much was owed for the groceries.  I asked the bagger to please help the woman get her groceries to her car as I paid the thirty-two dollars that settled the transaction.  The woman blessed me and asked for my address so that she could repay me.  I told her that it wasn't necessary and that she could just pay it forward to the next person that needed help.

With the clerk and the bagger's jaws still agape, I explained that they had missed a tremendous opportunity to feel good about helping someone that needed help.  They missed a chance to gain a customer, or friend, for life.  They, in all likelihood, would experience their own time of need.  Who would help them?  Would someone show them kindness and courtesy?

Early on in my childhood, usually as I was picking on my younger brother, my parents taught us the message of "The Golden Rule" so that we would develop an empathy towards others.  Ironically, this behavioral guidance usually followed a spanking at the hands of my mother.  Spare the rod...blah, blah, blah.  That said, me and my brother witnessed many examples of my parents assisting others, often complete strangers, in their time of need.

In 2000, this message of empathy was graphically reinforced in the movie "Pay It Forward".  This movie struck a personal chord with me on several fronts.  First, because the main character, Trevor, played by Haley Joel Osment, had a distinct likeness to my oldest son Jarrett.  Second, the educational setting, and the empathy for the caring teacher Mr. Simonet.  And most importantly, the theme of reciprocal ethical behavior that made this a memorable and inspirational film for many.


21 Acts of Human Kindness caught on film.

It was also about this time that my Tae Kwon Do instructor, Master Braxton Miller, required a completed RASK (Random Act of Senseless Kindness) as a qualification to test for the next color belt. My black-belt test required a significant community service project.  My project was organizing my football players into teams of helpers that organized and executed community clean up projects and physical assistance for elderly citizens.  Even though we didn't win many football games that season, the mayor of Palatine recognized our players as winners.

Whether it's as simple as holding the door open for others, helping our neighbors shovel snow from their driveway, or helping a student learn something new... in the case of common courtesy, it is much better to give than to receive.  I have made it a daily practice to treat or help others in ways that exceed their expectations.  Selfishly, it makes me feel good - but it is also my hope that with the help of others, we can make kindness and courtesy common again.

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