Friday, February 24, 2012

Courtesy is Contagious

SunflowerIt Begins With You

There are public service announcements (PSAs) on the subways.  One is: “Courtesy is contagious, and it starts with you”.  Sounds good, but I wonder if anyone’s listening.

The doors open and everyone pushes trying to get on and off at the same time – forgetabout courtesy there.  Old and young get on and whoever gets to the seat first sits down – not much courtesy there for the seniors among us.  Pregnant woman, people with disabilities, mothers and fathers with young children, shoppers with bags – nobody makes eye contact with them, let alone gives up a seat.  Newspapers, Kindles, paperbacks and PDAs – seems people can pay complete attention to those and never notice someone who’s looking for a little courtesy.  Maybe people just can’t hear the PSA.

I’ve been watching this for a year and it’s not about the PSA – right?  I mean, aren’t these the kinds of things you learn as a kid and just do because it’s the right things to do.  But when’s the last time you saw someone help someone cross the street, or carry a heavy bag or stroller, or any of the hundreds of other acts of kindness that could and should be happening spontaneously throughout the day.  So I started watching – you know, standing at the corner rather than quickly rushing across the street, watching people on the subway rather than reading my paper – that kind of watching.  And what I’ve started to see are the acts of kindness I thought weren’t happening.  Seems that these get lost in the overall shuffle.

Saw a guy help a women carry her stroller up the 32 steps from the underground subway station.  Saw an older woman help a blind person onto the subway and into a seat.  Watched a kid help an elderly man and woman across a busy Manhattan street.  Mine is a half-assed survey but the examples are there.  I guess there really are lots of boy and girl scouts around – I guess they’re just hard to spot.  Maybe that’s because they don’t jump up and down like pro athletes when they do these kind acts - are we so jaded or busy that we just don’t see them unless they do?

So now I’m wondering whether it’s the PSA (that many times can’t even be heard) or are these New Yorkers just hard wired to do it simply and quickly and then move on?  So I asked – no, I really just commented to a few when they were done – and they just shrugged like it’s no big deal.  And that’s the moral to this story: helping others, random acts of courtesy – they are everyone’s responsibility and people just do them because they know it starts with them.  No big deal; no cause for celebration; just the right thing to do.  So pay attention with all your senses today and see if an opportunity presents itself, and then, as the end of this PSA says: “Stand up for what’s right”!

My message this week is about participating in things, fully:

Arte Nathan“The willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life is the source from which self-respect springs.”
-Joan Didion

Joan Didion (born December 5, 1934) is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation.

How much responsibility do you accept for your actions?  Really – be honest!  You probably know people who say they accept responsibility but actually don’t.  And if that’s the case, stop and analyze how that kind of disconnect happens, see how what they say is at odds with what they do, think about how they mislead themselves and think they’re convincing others,  and try to learn from what you see.  In life, it’s all about learning from those around you, and honing your thinking and skills by watching others, and getting and being better by avoiding the pitfalls you see.  Because if you can learn, and be better, then you’ll probably be more successful at the things you do in all facets of your life. Because if you can recognize the little ways that people deceive themselves then you might learn how to see and recognize some of those mistakes in yourself before they happen.  And all of that will lead to the place from which self-respect springs.
 
Stay well!

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