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\”Courtesy\” – Word of the Week

Definition of the word of the week (COURTESY): An act of civility or respect; an act of kindness or favor performed with politeness

A truly courteous person shows courtesy to everyone. When courtesy is selectively given, it loses something. For example, if a person is courteous to a superior but not a subordinate, that behavior better describes a sycophant or, to use the common vernacular, a brown nose. Rather, a genuinely courteous person is civil to everyone regardless of age or position. A courteous person knows that civility makes it easier for people to get along.

As I have traveled the world, I have found that the most important words in any language are “please” and “thank you.” Knowing these simple words in the native tongue makes a significant difference. I remember visiting a small town in Poland called Boleslevic where our wives engaged in what we called “combat shopping.” They were fast and thorough, found some great deals, returned home with vans loaded with treasures and gave the local village lots of much-needed American hard currency.

This time, I was on my own looking for amber jewelry. Because I was fairly certain that the sales lady did not speak English and we were in a border town a short drive from Germany, I spoke German to her and she replied in German. After I found the perfect treasure for my wife and the sales lady was wrapping it up, I told her “thank you” in Polish. Earlier, I had found the word difficult to learn and had practiced it for hours and probably still managed to mispronounce it somewhat but she suddenly stopped what she was doing, looked up and the biggest smile I could imagine burst across her face. She even called over her fellow sales associates. When I saw such a favorable response, I then made sure to tell them that I was an American, by God. That day, one courteous word made some good friends for America.

On another trip I did not do so well. We were visiting Prague not long after the Iron Curtain fell and Soviet equipment was being sold very cheaply. So, I bought a fur hat complete with a Red Star on it and started walking to my car. The looks from the Chech’s were cold and hostile. It then dawned on me that the Soviets had damaged and abused Czechoslovakia for so long that anyone Russian or Russian-looking was not welcome. I made a quick trip to the car and put all of the Soviet souvenirs out of sight in the trunk. Upon my return walk downtown, I made a point of speaking English and was welcomed with open arms and big smiles.

Saint Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, wrote, “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” What are you sowing?

The following quotations are intended to assist in explaining and exemplifying the word of the week:

To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness. Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father

I place a high moral value on the way people behave. I find it repellent to have a lot, and to behave with anything other than courtesy in the old sense of the word – politeness of the heart, a gentleness of the spirit. Emma Thompson, Actress

There is a kind of courtesy in skepticism. It would be an offense against polite conventions to press our doubts too far. George Santayana, Philosopher

Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy. Jacques Maritain, Philosopher

Courtesy is the one coin you can never have too much of or be stingy with. John Wanamaker, Merchant

The greater person is one of courtesy. Lord Alfred Tennyson, Poet

Your letter of excuses has arrived. I receive the letter but do not admit the excuses except in courtesy, as when a man treads on your toes and begs your pardon – the pardon is granted, but the join aches, especially if there is a corn upon it. Lord Byron, Poet

Don’t flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Author and poet

LTC Patrick Beer, the Dean of Students and Commandant of Cadets at Georgia Military College, prepares this study guide each week as part of the institution’s character education program. He welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. He can be contacted by phone, 478-445-2710 or by email, pbeer@gmc.cc.ga.us