Our vow to be courteous is not a sworn statement
Updated: June 28, 2012 3:48PM
For the first 13 years of his life, my oldest was the sweetest boy scout.
Then he started high school and unleashed a stream of curse words that KO’d the entire Federal Communications Commission. They didn’t fine him — they fined me.
Perhaps this is a modern rite of passage into adulthood. All of my son’s friends curse.
And as a culture, coarser language has become mainstream. We’re desensitized to it and to rudeness in general. When a stranger is courteous to us, we recoil with shock.
Inevitably if you complain about this lack of manners, someone will accuse you of being narrow-minded and escort you to an H.G. Wells machine and send you back to Howdy Doody Time. They will point out the U.K. study where participants were subjected to a pain stimulus like a hammer. Nine times out of 10, a blistering swear word helped the subjects cope better with their pulverized thumbs than those who said, “Fiddlesticks.”
Hitting your thumb is one thing; dining at a restaurant and enduring cursing from neighboring tables becomes wearisome.
In one thoughtful essay, it was suggested that when we lose our manners, we are losing awareness that others are just as important as we are.
Years ago, I admired the CEO of the company where I worked. He made eye contact with everyone and greeted them with genuine kindness, whether the person was the janitor or the officer of a Fortune 500 firm. His smarts and courtesy made a lasting impression on me.
“Grand gestures aren’t always necessary,” Tom Peters says. Peters, the business author, cites American statesman Henry Clay as an inspiration, and urges us to use Clay’s quote as a screensaver: “Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.”
About 11:30 one day, I picked up my son after he finished his shift at his summer job. His managers have complimented him on his politeness and work ethic. In a skeptical moment, I wondered if the right kid climbed into the van.
“We’re going to cure this swearing problem,” I tell him. “Every time you curse, a quarter goes in the cookie jar.”
“Oh, good,” my oldest wisecracks. “I’ll be able to buy a new car.”