The Force of Courtesy

Part of being courteous is the ability to be aware of the needs and concerns of others and to respond to them with selfless grace. It is an attribute of character. It is also a weakening personal craft in today’s culture of instant gratification, in the self-fulfillment of the “me” generation.

When you see it in abundance, courtesy is worthy of comment.

Some years ago I flew with a Navy medical contingent to Croatia in the former Yugoslavia. The flight was on a crowded, C-141 transport plane. Depending on where you sat on the uncomfortable webbed bench seats, it was either surprisingly hot or irritatingly cold. Any cramped movement was measured in continuous “excuse me” rather than distance.

Not once, during the 16-hour ordeal did I see one act of intolerance toward another. No disapproving sighs, no grunts of disgust. What I saw from these Navy men and women from Fleet Hospital Six in San Diego were continuous acts of courtesy.

A pillow given up for another person’s comfort.
Offers to share personal snacks.
A blanket gently laid atop a dozing colleague.
A hand extended to steady the stepping over huddled and sleeping bodies.

I thought at that time “courtesy” was another name for Navy. I appreciated the lesson and have never forgotten it.

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