We often feel that we don’t have the time or energy to extend ourselves to others with the small gestures that compose what we call common courtesy. It sometimes seems that this kind of social awareness belongs to the past, to smaller towns and slower times. Yet, when someone extends this kind of courtesy to us, we always feel touched. Someone who lends a helping hand when we are struggling with our groceries makes an impression because many people just walk right by. Even someone who simply makes the effort to look us in the eye, smile, and greet us properly when entering a room stands out of the crowd. It seems these people carry with them the elegance and grace of another time, and we are always thankful for our contact with them. Common courtesy is a small gesture that makes a big difference.
An essential component of common courtesy is awareness and common sense—looking outside yourself to see when someone needs help or acknowledgment. As a courteous person, you are aware that you are walking into a room full of people or that your waiter has arrived to take your order. Then, awareness leads to action. It is usually quite clear what needs to be done—open the door for the woman holding the baby, move your car up two feet so another person can park behind you, acknowledge your sister’s shy boyfriend with a smile and some conversation, apologize if you bump into someone. A third component is to give courtesy freely, without expecting anything in return. People may not even take notice, much less return the kindness, but you can take heart in the fact that you are creating the kind of world you want to live in with your actions.
When you are out in the world, remember to be aware of others, lend your hand when one is needed, and give this help without an ulterior motive. Through these small actions, you make this world a better place in which to live.