Courtesy is Our Choice to be Human By Asif Zaidi

“People will forget what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou


I have a lifetime’s work to vouch that there are two ways of dealing with other people, one by being rude and uncaring and two by being courteous and caring yet putting your point across, preserving your rights, or getting your job done. Courtesy has a deep role in all human cultures, extending to almost every aspect of our interactions.



Cambridge dictionary defines courtesy as “polite behavior, or a polite action or remark.” Courtesy is a wholesale idea that covers almost all ways of showing politeness in one’s approach and behavior towards other people. It is not restricted to the mere lip service through words not backed by attitude and conduct.

Being busy or over occupied could make way for impatience, and impatience could breed discourtesy.  Courtesy requires us to focus on how we relate to others. How we treat them.

Courtesy mirrors who we are and might also reveal our upbringing. Responsible parents teach their children courtesy and how to behave at home and away from home. If children are impolite, or ill-mannered, at home, they would logically be impolite and ill-mannered to others.

Why Is Courtesy Important?

Courtesy is our opportunity to make a difference in the world one small act at a time, our chance to create the world we wish to see. A sincere smile, a simple thank you, an encouraging pat on the back, a word of compliment, a helping hand, a kind hug, and a caring look are small acts, which can count up to have a huge impact on our daily lives and wellbeing.

We refer to courtesy in different ways, such as civility, good manners, good behavior, nice conduct, politeness, decency, respect for others, thoughtfulness, kindness, gentleness, consideration etc. No matter what we call it, courtesy is not trivial. The seemingly trivial acts we perform are important. As Edmond Burke said, “Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.”

Courtesy is not something that people are born knowing how to do. It is something that needs to be learned and practiced. What makes courtesy worth our deliberate attention and efforts?

We tend to think today that good manners and right morals are entirely separate. But the fact is, they are connected. Bad manners and high crime rates often go together. Here are some of the important benefits of courtesy.

It Builds Relationships

This holds true for both personal and professional relationships.  Common courtesy is a great enhancer.

It Inspires Reciprocity

People tend to treat you as you treat them. We all know which person is a delight to talk to and whom to avoid.

It Reduces Stress

When you suffer insolence or are rude yourself, observe how it remains with you in an unpleasant way for quite long, increasing stress levels and negatively impacting productivity. On the other hand, see how a pleasant interaction is stress-free and leaves you in a happy mood. Courtesy can bring joy to those we meet and also to ourselves, and can make someone else feel good.

It Sets a Good Example

By being courteous you set the right example for your children, colleagues, family and friends to follow. Only when you practice the right thing can your children learn from you. We need to teach the young by our examples that the strong are kind. The strong reach out and connect with others. They unite, uplift, and improve the world.

It is the Right Thing to Do

In addition to all other advantages, being courteous is simply the right thing for anyone to do.



When we treat others with courtesy, it shows them that we value and respect them. Even if they get upset, but our gentle behavior will balm their irritability and calm them down. Courtesy is the sign of an evolved person, one who sees the commonality of all, that despite our differences, we are all the same. Let’s resonate the prayer of Alexander Pope, “Teach me to feel another’s woe, to hide the fault I see; that mercy I to others show, that mercy show to me.” Here are some the simple ways to practice courtesy.

Set Yourself High Standards

Tell yourself you are better than and beyond careless, irritating, or rude behavior. Remember that other humans exist in this world who have different (or even the same!) wants, needs, and priorities in their life as you and do not run roughshod on those. This does not mean not looking after yourself, but rather recognizing that you, your values, and your life have no more right to the front of the line than anyone else’s.

Pronounce People’s Names Correctly

And address people by their name. When you come across a person with a name unfamiliar to you, ask them to pronounce it, repeat it in your head, and use it to gain practice. Remember people’s names. If you forget, fess up and apologize, but do not laugh it off.


Be a good and patient listener. Let people finish their sentences. Your opinion is not more important than others, do not interrupt and proceed to dominate the conversation. Wait for your turn.

Respect Difference of Opinion

We all have varying opinions in politics, religion, sports, and other subjects but this does not mean someone is naïve, ignorant, or foolish. You do not have to get so raging pissed when others feel differently about a provocative topic. This world is beautiful because it is full of different thinking individuals often coming from different religions, cultures, or backgrounds. When you disagree with someone’s opinion, do so respectfully. It is fine to disagree and still have love.

Be Polite

Remember, how we used to be chastised as kids for not using Please, Thank You, or Sorry? Using these words in appropriate situations not only manifests good manners but also inculcates humility in us. These common courtesies should be an inalienable part of our everyday life.

Make sure to ask nicely for something instead of demanding it, be thankful when someone does something for you, and show that you are not a disgusting ingrate who takes it for granted for others to serve them. Say thank you to wait staff, do not get upset because someone did not jump to do your bidding, and hold the door for someone with their arms full. Being kind and polite to others enhances you as a human.

Treat Others as Equals

When you view others with disdain, it seeps through your words and body language. Courtesy demands that we treat everyone with respect and fairness.

It doesn’t matter if you are the patriarch of the family, the boss, or the little sister—you can set the table, help do the dishes, and carry your own weight. Pick up that piece of garbage you see lying around even if it is not yours or replace the toilet paper roll when it runs out even if it is not your turn.

Use Appreciation

Add unaffected and sincere appreciation in your interactions with others for their qualities, achievements, gestures. Whenever someone deals with you thoughtfully, show your appreciation and express your gratitude. As Seneca said, “There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it.”

Speak In a Measured Tone

Raising your voice does not make you more assertive. Nobody likes to be addressed in raised voices. Unless it is truly necessary as a disciplining mechanism in a rare circumstance, raising your voice does not get you better results.

Do Not Get Personal

Avoid getting personal in a discussion, especially an argument, even in personal relationships. Limit yourself to the issue at hand and do not make unwarranted personal comments.

Build Empathy

Do not judge people, instead develop the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. We all walk different paths and have our own struggles that we deal with. Respect everyone’s journey. Act kindly toward others without expecting anything in return. To act in the expectation of a reward cancels out the kindness.

Drive Patiently

We tend to spend more time on roads than before, especially during rush hours. If we are not patient while driving, we can get irritable and angry. The unpleasant side of us could come out, because some drivers could do some pretty rash or foolish things. Remind yourself to be courteous to others while driving and be grateful when someone is courteous to you. In the traffic of a society or a city, what goes around comes around.

Also show courtesy to pedestrians, not only those on the pedestrian crossing. Drivers are not necessarily busier than those walking. We particularly need to be watchful of children walking along or wanting to cross. When allowing someone to cross, be careful to block other vehicles from over taking you while you are doing it.

Treat Others as You Would Want to be Treated

Show others the same behavior that you would like to receive in the same circumstance. Do not let other stresses of life conduce to unsavory behavior when unnecessary. Try to not dwell on or remember with excruciating details the way in which the other person might not have been nice to you. For example, if you are standing in a line, you will not like someone try to find a friend who is further up, start a conversation, remain chatting and then slip into the line; in the process, being unfair to you and others who were there before and in front of whom they are slipping in. So, do not do it yourself too.

Share knowledge, be inclusive, share the joke, bring people in, and do not go out of your way to leave people out.

Be Sensitive About Money

Do not flaunt your financial success or your possessions. In truth no body values your possessions as you do.

Do not presume everyone has the same financial status. Be conscious and respectful of the fact that your friends or relatives may not be able to spend as much as you can. Make plans that can be inclusive of everyone. Human dignity is not associated with financial status. It does not matter if someone has more or less money than you do. Value people as humans, not wallets.

Be Kind to Animals

If you hurt, harm, or mistreat animals then you likely are not kind to other human beings. That is because how you treat animals shows how you treat creatures that cannot be of use to you or cannot hit back. If you have pets to enjoy their company or have fun with, remember you are also entrusted with their care and wellbeing.

Practice Small Gestures

The seemingly trivial acts we perform are the most important for us and others to feel good. Through them we raise the level of courtesy that is practiced in society.

Smile. Do not be afraid to smile when you unintentionally make eye contact with random strangers.

Hold doors open for others. Someone holding open a door with a smile can make someone’s day.

Be kind to the elderly and weak. Give up your seat on the train or bus for someone else who needs it more than you.

Be kind and responsible to the environment. Keep your environment clean and contribute to the upkeep of public parks. Plant trees.

Greet. Greeting people is an element of courtesy. You can lighten up moods by smiling and greeting others in a pleasant manner.

If you have a pet, clean up after it. If you let your dog poo in a nice park that children are playing in and then just walk away, you suck at being a human.

Treat servers well and tip appropriately.

Mind your own business. Just because you are overhearing does not give you the right to butt in any situation like you know what is going on.

Keep your word. If a situation arises and you cannot do what you said you would, then let the other person know.

Let loved ones know how you feel. Do not take those closest to you for granted. Show your appreciation by taking the time to let them know you love them. Follow a policy of “courtesy begins at home.”

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