The (Almost) Lost Art of Polite

Leaving the bank, I sensed someone behind me. I walked through the heavy door, then held it open for an elderly man who was slowly making his way toward the door. “I’m not helpless,” he groused. “Of course not,” I replied, “I’m just being polite.”

rude_polite_rankingPolite isn’t popular anymore. A friend who observed by husband opening the car door for me, as he has for decades, sniffed, “Are you so weak you can’t open that door yourself?” If my husband didn’t have the keylock, I would have reached across and unlocked his door for him, too.

It’s kind to help people who have mobility issues, but the small acts that make up being polite are truly an art that makes the world a bit shinier and easier to manage.

Polite is hard to explain to small children. They stare at the handicapped, ask intrusive questions, and are sticklers for the “truth” as they see it. If we are lucky, they get socialized and develop the habit of being polite. But it’s slipping away, faster and faster.

When I bump into anything–even inanimate objects, I say, “Excuse me,” or “I’m sorry,” as a force of habit. A teen looked at me in the grocery store when I apologized to a grocery cart and muttered, “Dude, it’s like a thing! It can’t hear you.” True. But it might have been a person.

I let pregnant women ahead of me in line because I remember what it felt like to stand on swollen feet. When I was in D.C. two weeks ago, no one looked up from the seats clearly marked “for Senior Citizens and the handicapped,” and I did not have the nerve to pull out their headphones so I could ask for the seat. Why not? Because I didn’t think they would move.

Being polite means saying that an ugly baby is adorable, sending thank-you cards, and attending funerals of people you don’t know well. It’s saying “thank you” to a cashier who isn’t polite.  Not walking three abreast down a sidewalk and forcing other people to step into the street. If you are a bicyclist, it’s stopping at signs and lights instead of blowing through them or yelling “on your left” when someone is using the sidewalk for walking, then passing them at top speed, just nipping their elbow.

Polite is not throwing your co-working under the bus just because you can and no one will stand up to you. Bring back polite, and the whole concept of bullying shrinks and vanishes. Best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing and takes little effort.

–Quinn McDonald still says “you’re welcome” when someone says, “thank you.” She doesn’t want them to think for a minute that they might have been a problem.

Image: LAmag.com