Please, Excuse Me and Thank You

New York City StreetAs I finished reading Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct by P.M. Forni, I thought back on the lessons in good manners my parents taught me as a child. Looking at modern life today, I’m convinced it’s the little everyday habits that really can make our world a better place to live. And how easy they are to forget.

My own modern life is an example – one that has me living in New York or Los Angeles in any given week, pursuing a demanding career. I admit, I’ve forgotten about using manners that were once very familiar.

Learning to say please, thank you and excuse me early on does not ensure we’ll keep saying them.

We live in a society that encourages material gain, ambition, and dog-eat-dog individualism. We celebrate and admire people who are aggressive and abrasive if they’re good at making money. It’s tempting to believe that getting the right things, having outward beauty and keeping toned at the gym is the road to happiness. There’s nothing wrong with ambition and single-minded focus on reaching goals in life. But what is the cost – if we simply become self-absorbed and forget about the needs of others in the world and in the places around us?

Why have we forgotten about good manners?

Lately, when I’ve gone to the gym, I’ve been doing a little informal behavior study. When opening the door for someone, I’ve counted how many times I hear “thank you.” About 20% of the time, there’s no sign at all that the person has even noticed the courtesy. No word of thanks, no gesture or acknowledgment of any kind. It’s like they didn’t see that another person did anything for them at all.

As I’m walking in New York or taking the subway, it seems most people are okay about pushing past someone they’ve jostled or bumped into. They’re in a rush; it’s fine to just keep going on your way. Once they’ve got the earpieces plugged into a phone or PDA, it’s like they’re in their own personal world. It’s a space without concern or mindfulness of other people.

Try a different approach to daily living.

I want to offer a different way to approach modern life. Starting right now, think about each person around you as a person like you or me – with good days, bad days, hopes, wants, and dreams. Try to show somehow that you see this other person exists. This isn’t about intruding or starting unwanted conversation. It’s about doing something that signals: “I see you.” Stop and hold a door; offer a smile; let someone else go ahead of you in traffic.

It’s a little sign that can make another a person feel special, if only for a moment, and spark the urge to do the same for someone else.

Let’s spread good will.

Forni’s book has me rethinking and practicing more basic courtesies. I do feel more encouraged and happier. I’m feeling the rewards of “think globally – act locally.” Try it for yourself – let’s make today better by sharing a please, excuse me or thank you to make the world a friendlier place.

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