My mother used to say that using please and thank-you were a matter of common courtesy. So was saying hello to people you pass on the street, opening doors for seniors and waiting your turn, among other acts of polite behavior. Those were kinder, gentler times, I guess.
Today courtesy doesn’t seem to extend much further than the person in the mirror – looking back at you and saying how special you are.
I got that feeling recently when I was waiting my turn at a local frame shop. The woman in front of me, the framer and I were exchanging pleasantries when a blond woman strolled in looking as though she thought we were expecting her.
She was carrying what must have been a painting wrapped in a black plastic bag.
“Are you Cindy?” she inquired of me.
I shrugged. “No, I’m waiting to get some things framed.”
“Oh, I thought all of you worked here,” she said, surveying Joni behind the counter and us, the two customers. The blond then strolled to the counter and plopped her plastic bag on top of the two paintings that were sitting there, waiting for frame selection.
The three of us gasped, as the framer rushed to lift the blond woman’s package off the other artwork and place it on an empty counter nearby.
“I’ll just set this over here,” the framer said politely. Situation handled. Almost.
“It would be nice if we all worked here. That would mean the store was doing a bang-up business,” I said matter-of-factly as the woman continued to hang around the counter waiting for her needs to be met.
“Oh, I’m not the kind of person that cuts in line,” she said, glancing down at her watch as though time was money.
When the lady before me finished with her frame choices and placed her order, Joni indicated she was ready for me.
“Let her go ahead,” I offered. Was I being courteous? No, I just wanted the blond woman gone, not waiting impatiently for me to finish.
The artwork, a canvas print of tulips stretched over wood, needed a special frame. She spent the next 10 minutes rejecting the framer’s suggestions. When, at last, the woman agreed with the framer’s choice, I felt a sense of relief.
The framer measured the piece and then quoted the price: $155.
“What!?” the woman said. “That’s a lot of money. Way more than the painting is worth. I’ll need to think about it,” she said as she snatched up the tulips and departed.
Relieved that she was gone, the framer and I pondered what to do with the two pieces I had brought in. We were on our second framing challenge when several customers walked in the door. I thought of the blond woman and what my mother always told me about being courteous.
“Looks like this will take some time,” I said. “Why don’t you take this out of the frame and I’ll come back next week.”
It seemed like a simple thing to do. I was willing to share my time with others.
Later in the afternoon, I was struck by another example of what I consider to be discourteous behavior. And it came from then president-elect Joe Biden.
First, he criticized the Trump administration for what he considered to be a slow roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine. Then he said he would vaccinate 100 million people in the first 100 days of the administration.
Now that the election was over and Biden had been declared the victor, why didn’t he decide to be magnanimous in his comments. He could afford to be. Here’s what he should have said:
“It’s quite amazing that the Trump administration and the pharmaceutical companies were able to deliver a vaccine in such a short time. We owe them a debt of gratitude. And, as your president, I will continue that effort, making the delivery of these life-saving drugs my No. 1 priority. It is my hope that by the end of April we will have vaccinated 100 million more Americans.”
Why is courtesy and selfless action so uncommon these days? Particularly among politicians.