Of Courtesy, it is much less
Than Courage of Heart or Holiness,
Yet in my walks it seems to me
That the Grace of God is in Courtesy
–Belloc, “Courtesy”

Public manners have degenerated in recent decades. It is now routine to hear obscenities shouted in public, and by all sorts of people, not just in traffic but even in Starbucks. I am as fond of colorful language as anyone, but I try not to inflict it upon strangers. I suspect many people sense they should have better manners, and need only a nudge.

Okay, so Roger Ebert and I have disagreed on many of our reviews, but apparently we’ve found the spirit of unity as we were both struck by this idea of the death of common courtesy in modern society.

I’m sure I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to lament the increase in crassness in our culture (and in our stories: I’ve little patience for the “extreme” side of horror as most of it is extreme for extreme’s sake, with no sense of artistry or purpose. In fact, I think it is another symptom of the demise of the fundamental respect for one another that I’m nostalgic for). It affects us on fundamental levels, including how the sexes relate to one another. Seriously, has wolf whistles and groping women ever worked?

I know I’m old school, but I’m not asking for much. Simple manners. Standing up in the presence of a woman. Opening doors for a lady. Not out of anything chauvinistic or paternalistic, but just simple gestures that say “I respect who you are. You can certainly do for yourself, but allow me the opportunity to serve you out of respect.” Saying “please” and “thank you”. When did being polite become a mark of being soft? For that matter, when did being hard become a social necessity?

Courtesy is not strictly distinct from the other virtues, but rather a quality to be found in them all. It has something to do with reverence, humility, and chastity. It is shaped by charity, the form of all the virtues, into the quality of mercy. It is the beauty of a brave and generous life.

Part of recognizing one another as Eikons, as image-bearers of God, the least we can do is act in common courtesy. Courtesy begins with a reverence for one’s fellow man, recognizing each individual’s dignity. But in our culture of disrespect, that has becoming increasingly hard to come by.

And yes, I have managed to find spiritual thoughts in this idiot in front of me flipping me the bird.

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