Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Memo: Be Courteous

“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. “ (1 Peter 3:8)

         In the first nine verses of this chapter, Peter takes up the discussion of home matters; in particular, the husband and wife relationship. Verses eight and nine, however, seem to purposely include the whole family, and beyond. They give us a very concise list of attitudes and actions guaranteed to enhance any relationship. In other words, they will help us get along with people; and nowhere is this more needed than in the home.

         Among such high virtues as consensus (“one mind”), compassion, pity and love, we find the everyday, homespun attribute of being “courteous.” This word is only found in this verse, but you will find the word “courteously” two times in the book of Acts, both referring to acts of kindness. And that’s all courtesy and good manners are: kindness to others. Without delving into the etymological roots of the word, I see that it begins with the word “court,” which gives it a regal connotation, of sorts, and may be one reason some people are not overly concerned with it. They see it as being pretentious or showy. But on the contrary, there is nothing more pompous and conceited than an individual who thinks it’s “cool” to run roughshod over the feelings and sensibilities of others.

         My thesis here is Peter’s: Good manners should begin—and continue—at home. If it is rude to humiliate, ignore, or slight a friend or acquaintance, how much more offensive it is to violate a family member. If we can tip a waiter or waitress we don’t even know, would it not seem right to show gratitude to a husband, wife, child, or sibling who does something for us? And if we are willing to overlook faults and shortcomings in friends and coworkers, why must we find it necessary to point out every little flaw we see in a family member? 

          I remember, one of the many times I reminded my children to observe good table manners, one of them grudgingly said, “But there’s nobody here but us!” My reply was something my own mother used to say to me: “You’ll never be in better company than you are right now.” And when we are discourteous to family members, we only prove that we don’t believe that.

         The old saying goes, “Charity begins at home.” Well, so does courtesy. Don’t pretend to possess the former, if you withhold the latter.  


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