When Did Common Courtesy Become Uncommon Courtesy?

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When did common courtesy become uncommon courtesy? I can’t rightly say, but I do sincerely lament its passing. I’m an early Baby-boomer born in 1947, and a byproduct of the 1950s (my so-called formative years). Back in those prehistoric times most of us came from what has since become known as a Nuclear Family (two parents + kids = basic social unit). Those days are long gone I’m afraid, and not likely to return.

Nostalgia reeks of idealism. The Nuclear Family wasn’t always perfect, in point of fact it was never perfect. Looking back the 1950s seem like Nirvana when compared to the times we live in today, but we’re looking through rose-colored glasses at best and we’re maybe delusional at worst. There was strife in middle America suburbia, but it was often hidden out of sight. Millions of veterans from WWII and Korea were suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, and alcoholism, domestic violence, and child abuse often went undetected.

I’m not going to challenge the context of the times I lived in, the times were what they were. For the most part I remember a time of stability and security. And rules. Personally I hate rules, but they did provide a roadmap of how to conduct yourself in public (if not always in private). My parents were strict, very strict, and they set the bar high. Corporal punishment was still in vogue and a good spanking was de rigueur for breaking the rules.

Social courtesy was common, hence the term common courtesy (as in common sense). It was not only expected, but insisted upon. It was insisted upon by every bastion of our society: parents, schools, churches, and society at large. We were taught, from the very beginning, to respect our elders and persons in authority: policemen, firemen, clergymen, teachers, and virtually every single adult (whether family or not). Any adult could (and was expected to) correct any unacceptable social behavior of any misbehaving kid.

It was a village concept long before Hillary Rodham-Clinton coined the term: It takes a village. Thus reducing it to banal cliché and ridicule. Can you imagine any of this happening today? It seems unthinkable doesn’t it? Think of the uproar and legal repercussions if you tried to verbally discipline a misbehaving kid in today’s society. We’ve lost this right through our own misbehaviour, adults are not to be trusted (public trust has been egregiously violated too many times by persons in authority).

A sound axiom of leadership (and by extension teaching) is: we lead (teach) by example. It’s bad enough that many adults have abdicated their teaching responsibilities, but they’ve also succumbed to inappropriate social behavior themselves. Today’s behavior is best described as boorish (to the extreme). Gone are the days of civility, modesty, gentility, and respect for others. Now it’s loudly cursing in public, having to listen to inane cellphone conversations (everywhere), and watching people mug for the all-important Selfie.

Finally an anecdotal story to round out this rant: Some years ago, when I was still married, my family and I went to our favorite Mexican restaurant to celebrate a birthday. Seated at the table next to us were six young adults in their mid-twenties who had obviously had too many Margaritas. Every other word out of their collective mouth was an exploding F-bomb. It was clear that this behavior was upsetting the other patrons seated close by, but no one had complained.

I brought the situation to the attention of the restaurant’s management, but they declined to get involved. My wife at the time, as well as my daughter, were both at our table. I spent six years in the Marine Corps, I can swear with the best of them—but this was neither the place nor the time. I excused myself from the table, and in a quiet voice asked politely if they might curtail their language until they left. One of the young women was chagrined and tried to tone the others down.

One young man, the most obnoxious of the lot, glared at me and said: Fu%k you old man. He will never know how close he came to losing his front teeth. In the 1950s you could legitimately respond to a verbal assault or insult with your fists. Knowing that fact most people measured their words more carefully than they do today. Like in the old west provocation was often reason enough, and one had to be careful who he insulted. If I had acted out I would have been arrested and charged with assault.

Here I was: a man who had served his country for six years, fought a war in Vietnam, was a decorated combat veteran, a successful businessman; a husband, father, and grandfather, and I had to put up with this young punk showboating for his friends. Thankfully the others at the table became embarrassed by the situation, and the glaring looks from other onlookers, and elected to leave the restaurant with a few choice parting shots. Such bravery.

What kind of society is it where restaurant management won’t intervene in a situation like that, where onlookers cower at their tables, where a husband and a father is rendered impotent with the threat of legal action? I’m not saying this boorish behavior wouldn’t have occurred in the 1950s, but I can guarantee you that severe consequences would have ensued. And any judge worth his salt would have supported my decision to pop that young punk in the mouth.

What about you? Do you loudly curse in public in front of women and children (or are you one of those modern women who think it’s a sign of equality to match word for word a man’s foul mouth and act tough)? Do you intrude on other people’s peace and quiet with your loud, obnoxious cellphone conversations (everywhere)? Do you meekly cower before such rude behavior in others? Do you teach by example (good or bad)? I saw a recent post on Facebook that said: If you allow it you can’t whine about it.

Here is a humorous example of what I’m talking about: respect and common courtesy. Robert Duval, as Augustus McCrae in Lonesome Dove, insists upon proper social etiquette. In my lifetime such things happened, and folks watched their P’s & Q’s because they never knew who might call them on it. Every bone in my body cried out to smack that young punk in the chops, that I didn’t is a regret I carry with me still. I didn’t go to jail but I lost a little self-respect, and that’s worse I think.


5 responses to “When Did Common Courtesy Become Uncommon Courtesy?

  1. Great piece. Times have changed and not for the better. Now we have a presidential candidate who is going to ‘bomb the $h1t out of ISIS’ and calls a competitor a pu$$y. Hopefully we can turn things around.

    • I often feel like I’m turing into one of those grumpy old men, and I hate that feeling. I really do try to stay open minded, but many of society’s new conventions offend me to the max. Cellphones especially and young women who swear loudly in public (yeah, I know that’s probably sexist) top the list. I used the word “Boorish” in the article, and I think it’s the PERFECT word to describe today’s public behavior.

  2. I had a similar situation happen to me and I am not a physical guy and have never had the history of military training in my life. I simply asked the guy to stop and if not I invited him outside to, “talk further about it.” Thank God he didn’t respond to my invitation. I agree with all of your insight into our culture. I believe that at the root of it all is that young men are not mentored with the proper image of what a man should become and how he should live life. King David on his death bed said to Solomon his son, “Show yourself to be a man.” The message has not changed through the ages but the intent of the meaning has changed. My advice to a young man is to ask himself in all honesty. Are my actions displaying to the world that I am a, “man”.

    • It’s a sad state of affairs. I would like to be optimistic, but unfortunately I’m not. It seems like the chaos theory hard at work, as things evolve they in fact devolve (becoming more chaotic and confused). I guess we can only do our best by exhibiting the behavior we expect. I am disappointed when the young exhibit this boorish behavior, but I’m appalled when I see it in my own generation (and increasingly I do).

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