The path of virtues – Courtesy

January 16, 2018frjohnma

The essence of learning is to effect a permanent change in behaviour. So, it is meant to influence character formation; and in a sense, intelligence is supposed to bear on character. No doubt, we are born with weaknesses; hence, the Psalmist in Ps. 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” However, as we learn good habits (virtues), we become better persons. More so, we study especially philosophy and history in order not to repeat the failures/mistakes of the past. The vast learning that sprouts from the enlightenment era with a huge volume of literatures in virtually all fields of human endeavour seems to yield more confusion rather than order in our New Age. The climax of such controversial outcome can be found in Nietzsche’s “prophecy” of the death of God and the traditional values associated with Him. That “prophecy” seems fulfilled in our contemporary age! A core value that is depreciating in our day-to-day relationships is courtesy or as it is also called, politeness or civility. Therefore, our preoccupation is to draw our attention to this very precious value.

What is courtesy? According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, courtesy is “polite behaviour that shows respect for other people” and the same dictionary states that to be polite means “having or showing good manners and respect for the feelings of others.” It is interesting to note that courtesy also has a spiritual undertone; thus it follows that to be courteous is to exemplify some spiritual values. Courtesy in this sense is a form of mortification. Accordingly, to be courteous is to be mortified. Frank Duff in The Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary states, “A mortified person will be courteous and pleasant to those he lives close to at home and at work.” Moreover, courtesy, as a form of mortification, involves the control of the senses, especially with regard to what we permit ourselves to look at, listen to or say. Little wonder there is what is called courtesy of the senses. Furthermore, courtesy can also be translated as self-discipline for the good of others, with an outcome of respect for your person (For respect is reciprocal or as the saying goes, respect begets respect).

The challenge before us is this: these synonymous concepts (courtesy/politeness/civility) are popular coinages that are popularised in the secular circles. However, we must quickly state that these concepts and what they portend are a secularization of Christian virtues. They are not new or strange ideas. Therefore, to be courteous is to be virtuous, so to speak. It goes to say that even the secular world has a sense of virtue! Again, the implication is that courtesy has a moral underpinning because once there is a sense of virtue, it means there is the effort to distinguish good from bad. So, this confirms the goodness of God’s creation – Gn. 1:31 “God looked at everything He had made, and He found it very good.”

From the foregoing, it is very disheartening to observe that courtesy or civility is gradually fading in our relationships. Nowadays, there is the erosion of simple good manners such as greeting, rendering of apology, expression of appreciation, giving of feedbacks or report for errands, patiently waiting on others, choosing healthy words in conversations, respect for one another (by the fact that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God), respect for elders and those in constituted authority, holding the door and letting an elderly person go before, and so forth. These relational qualities/values have become out-dated or old fashioned.  Is it not appalling that parents, teachers and those in authority usually think twice before sending their children, students and subordinates on errands? Guess what? They may disobey and naturally it is painful and demoralizing to have such experiences. The absence of courtesy is experienced when we fail to be kind to others especially the older people; when we fail to be tolerant of those who hurt us, and when we make fun of people’s physical appearances or disabilities.

The problem and challenge before us is common and especially with our youth. Their minds and hearts are governed by the rule of egoism. Consequently, they find it difficult to function in the society through the observance of simple civility. Another horrendous challenge is refusal to accept correction. This results in malicious attitudinal display towards the one who initiates the action to correct. Again, because we have lost the sense of courtesy, we cannot differentiate between formal and informal settings. Consequently, we purport to be free to say whatever we like. Because we have failed to select our words for a sound and healthy conversation, this has led to failed friendship and even the collapse of partnership in business circles. It is obvious that we have forgotten the Golden rule!


Courtesy is of paramount importance in today’s society because it is a way of showing respect for others, who in turn respect us. If there is no respect for others, the world will definitely be a very unpleasant place to be. Mind you, no wo/man can claim to live and lead a solitary life in the strict sense. We exist for one another; therefore, interdependence is not negotiable. Further, one who respects and applies simple courtesy is not only earning respect for his/her person but enjoys people’s admiration, and by extension, people respect his/her parents for the good they did in his/her upbringing. Again, promoting a courteous lifestyle frees us from selfishness, rudeness, self-centredness, and ultimately, pride. Thus, simple courtesy will make us to be friendly to people, acceptable to them and contributors to their well-being.


Please be mindful as you put up a life of civility; the reasons are quite simple. Many will take your courteous lifestyle for granted. For instance, some may mistake kindness for creepiness or think you are hitting on them, even if you are doing nothing of the sort. Being kind/simple does not mean being a doormat; do not let people take advantage of you. In order to be effectively courteous, one has to be principled and firm in character, with the strength to uphold what is good and right.


It is important to note that there may be no school subject called courtesy. In any case, there are many channels by which we learn to be courteous. It all starts from the family, church, school and the civic agencies of the society. The Mass media is also a veritable means for learning the art of being courteous. In most cases, the acts of courtesy are learned and imbibed indirectly. Finally, learning and developing a courteous attitude depends on a personal effort and the consciousness to practice courtesy in all situations of life and human relationships/contacts.

Now let us refresh our minds on the salient tips on courtesy and how to exemplify it.  Greeting people is one way of showing courtesy. Saying please and thank you are also good examples. You must also show proper manners and etiquette wherever you go. When you possess these qualities, people would admire you and your parents for raising you up that way. Do not insult people and do not make fun of them. Saying jokes and having fun is not bad but it must be in moderation. A joke is not funny anymore when you are hurting someone’s feelings. Always remember that you should not make fun of people’s looks, physical appearances and physical disabilities. It would terribly hurt a person when people insult or make fun of him or her. It would bring him or her depression, low self-esteem and discouragement; therefore, avoid such. Do not hastily judge a person. Physical appearance is not the basis of a person’s attitude and values. You must get to know the person before you make an informed judgment. When you do not like the person, it is not proper to say things behind his or her back. You can keep it to yourself and/or you can say it to him or her in a proper manner. There will be many instances to meet people along the way. It is always important to allow sufficient time to know someone better. Finally, in your interaction with people avoid been aggressive, rude and callous. If you demonstrate, any of the foregoing ill manners or more, people will desert you and you may not find life fulfilling.

Life is good but can never be enjoyed or appreciated alone. Accordingly, we need one another to move towards our goals and the fulfilment of our dreams. One of the elements to enable us achieve this feat in life is to always show courtesy in our different endeavours in life. Please cultivate the habit of putting forward a good and healthy lifestyle that is coloured with courtesy/ civility/ politeness. It pays to be courteous. If not for anything, at least for the respect you receive from people whom you show courtesy.

What is your take on courtesy?

Fr. John-Mary ATEP

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