Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Common Courtesy

Where I work, there is a whiteboard on which there is often a question of the [unspecified time period]. The latest question involves basically asks people to write their own "The Way I See it..." responses, like those on Starbucks cups. There were, of course, some of the standbies: "Don't take life too seriously," for example. One caught my eye: "We need rules to live together in this world." Someone had already written: "Or to bully others." I nearly responded, but let it stand with that brief argument.

Today, I noticed a new response beneath it. It said something about "no one talking about bullying" and that people had forgotten courtesy (I think that's what it said...the spelling and handwriting made it hard to tell), and needed to be told to use it.

That is the sort of thing you only run into in academia. Other fields would never dream of demanding we legislate courtesy. Academia, though, seeks to better mankind through an unending wealth of commands, be they social, economic, or otherwise.

Courtesy, by its nature, should be unforced. It indicates respect. If everyone is told how to interact with everyone else, it loses that. I think it may be precisely because of all the laws already regulating us that many have become too tired to be courteous. And it has made others less likely to be courteous because they've already been told how to act so thoroughly, they think they've already been compelled into courtesy. They would never think of anything beyond what they're already obliged to do.

If courtesy is legislated, it destroys the purpose of interactions in which one might be courteous. Anything that dictates how one must treat another, beyond those laws keeping one person from violating the rights of another, diminishes the human social capacity. It is socialism of the interpersonal. If I curse at you, fail to hold open a door for you, or simply ignore you, I have not violated your rights. If you do the same to me, you have not violated mine. Whichever of us is on the receiving end can see the opinion of the other. Freedom to interact socially is freedom of speech, even if it involves lack of speech. We should never censor someone for choosing not to respect someone they feel is undeserving of respect.

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