The Politeness Project

One evening, my son and I were at our local library. The place has one of those stubbornly heavy glass doors that basically require you to pull (or push, or vice versa, and yes, I always get mixed up!) and shove, till it slowly deigns to sulkily open. Basically, it is a door you tussle with, but hey, it’s good for toning biceps. 

Anyway, so there we were, browsing through the Crime section (me), the kids titles (my son), with me shushing him frequently when I heard a noise outside the glass door. A little girl was trying with all her might to open the door. She was a small child, and there was no way her little arms would have been able to push that stubborn door open. So I went and held it open for her. 

The child walked in, not looking at me. But that’s okay, children of a certain age rarely notice adults other than their family (or their teachers). And then, as I was standing there, still holding the door open, the child’s mother also sailed past. She didn’t look at me, forget about thanking me. The child didn’t know better. And no wonder, given how her mom behaved. In the end, there I was feeling like a doorman–you know the invisible beings who hold the door open for us, at malls, retail stores and various other places?

Thing is, I would not have allowed my son to behave like that. And goes without saying, that I would not have ignored someone who showed me a courtesy. I also have a sneaking suspicion that if it had been a father-and-child duo, at the very least, dad would have given me a grateful smile. Not made me feel like the doorjamb. Or better still, the doormat.

So has this happened to you too? Are we now so lost in our smartphones that we don’t value manners or basic courtesies? Or has the heat made us so addle-brained and bad-tempered that, everyday, we have to push and shove each other on the road, no matter that we happen to be sitting in our own vehicles at the time? And is that why we no longer wait in line/queues? Or why we harangue, even harass, street vendors over Rs 5 or Rs 10 in change? 

Anyway, after that incident, I decided to try and be more courteous to the people around me, regardless of whether they reciprocate. To my pleasant surprise, it’s not been all bad. Auto drivers for instance, are people I interact with, on a daily basis. Now, I don’t bother fighting over Rs 2 or Rs 3, instead I smile and tell them not to bother. And surprise, surprise, invariably, the driver smiles back. Obviously, you might add. But thing is, even when I’ve fallen short of Rs 2 or Rs 3 and I tell the driver this politely, three times out of six, he tells me that it’s okay.

I’ve realised that if I take the trouble to be a little nice to people who do me a service, (doormen for example), or delivery boys, fruit-sellers, etc, they are nice in return. So now, if a motorist stops to let me pass (on the road), I smile in acknowledgement, as a thank you gesture. Invariably, the motorist nods in return.

And yes, I remind my son of his manners too–if someone is nice to him, he has to say thank you. I call this my politeness project. And I’m sticking with it.  

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