Holding The Door

0213. Common Courtesy

You see it now everyday. Parents double-parked and blocking the street waiting for their children outside of school. Drivers not allowing other cars to merge into traffic. People not yielding their seats on public transportation to pregnant women or those with special needs. Neighbors with raised volumes on their speakers regardless of who is close by. Societal interactions between people appears to have gotten a lot more rude and lacks proper respect.

It was not always like this. People used to hold doors open for others, especially for women. We would say please when requesting something, and say thank you when someone did something for us. Conversations were polite, and conducted in a mindful and respectful manner. The term for these types of interactions is called common courtesy. Courtesy because it denoted excellence in social conduct, and common because it was something that everybody practiced and deemed important.

Although it seems like a lifetime ago, common courtesy only disappeared within the last generation or so. Nowadays, it is normal and acceptable to shout at others or show rude hand gestures. Communication has de-evolved to saying everything in less than 150 characters or less, usually through electronic means through our cell phones. And basic etiquette in public is practically non-existent.

So how did we arrive at this situation? If we examine this more closely, we will find something unusual going on. To evaluate common courtesy, we must understand the interaction of the situation. Any event where common courtesy can be applied must involve two parties. The first interacting party is us. We can either be on the giving or receiving end of the interaction. The party on the other end can be anybody. It is possible it could be a friend, but it could be a complete stranger, it really doesn’t matter. Now, during the encounter, only one test needs to be applied to evaluate common courtesy. For the party that is primarily acting in the transaction, are they putting themselves first, or are they putting the other party first? In order for common courtesy to be applied, the acting party must always put the other party first. That’s all there is to it. Let’s take the example of a pregnant woman getting on a crowded subway looking for a place to sit. If a person gives up their seat for her, they have shown common courtesy. However, if everybody is too busy looking at the phones, or have fallen asleep, then nobody has shown the woman common courtesy.

So what does this closer examination tell us? It reveals that if common courtesy is no longer present in our culture anymore, then we are always putting ourselves ahead of others. President John F. Kennedy once said: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” This had significant meaning to those back then, because common courtesy was important to Americans, and they were willing to put their country ahead of themselves. This quote is rarely mentioned today because it would fall on deaf ears, as very few would be willing to put their country ahead of their own priorities. The beginning of this happens to coincide with the appearance of the “me first” generation about fifty years ago, and has slowly eroded to our current present-day situation.

However, while our discussion has revolved around the recent history of common courtesy, it still does not explain the cause. What would make us shift to always putting ourselves first? If we take a look at the fall of mankind in the Bible, we can start to understand the reason. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are charged with maintaining the Garden of Eden. There is only one rule God gave them: do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, the enemy had a plan, seeking to drive a wedge between God and man. Taking the form of a serpent, he and Eve had a discussion in Genesis 3:2-7 (CSB): “The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, “You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.”‘ ‘No! You will certainly not die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” The enemy convinced Adam and Eve that God was withholding something from them, and told them to put themselves first in order to be on an even footing with God. It wasn’t until they ate did they realized that they had been deceived.

Now let’s move forward to the New Testament. In Mark 12:28-34 (CSB), Jesus is teaching when he is asked a question: “One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which command is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, teacher. You have correctly said that he is one, and there is no one else except him. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And no one dared to question him any longer.” In this interaction, Jesus says to put God first, and then our neighbors. Never does he say to put ourselves first. This is the basis of common courtesy. By learning to put God and others ahead of ourselves, we come closer to God.

The priorities of a God-omitted culture should now be obvious. When we do not have God in our lives, we will put ourselves first. We are more likely to follow the examples of our leaders, which can lead to being easily deceived and caught off guard. It was the goal of the enemy at the beginning of mankind, and it is still his goal today. And by putting ourselves first, sadly, common courtesy is sacrificed. So ask yourself: which behavior would you like to see more of in our culture today? Our present-day behavior of choosing ourselves first? Or one based on Jesus’ example, where common courtesy and kindness are practiced by everyone? Ponder that this week.

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