Why courtesy is a priority for everyone

Robert Zarywacz, courtesy consultant, reveals why he believes courtesy has an important role to play in everyday life:

Observing how individuals behaved towards each other in the workplace first made me think seriously about the role courtesy plays in our lives.

If we think of courtesy as just saying ‘please’ and ‘thanks’, why should it concern us when there are much bigger issues to attract our attention? When people are losing their lives through starvation, disease or war, the niceties of whether someone swears or not seem trivial.

I believe courtesy is a lot more than ‘please’ and ‘thanks’, especially when we watch the disintegration of communities into chaos around the world and, perhaps, even at home.

I think courtesy is about how we treat each individual we meet, regardless of age, sex, race, background, religion or political creed. It is central to, what I remember we used to call, civilisation.

As well as making way so someone can pass by easily on a narrow pavement, it means treating an employee working a 12-hour shift as a human being, offering a seat to a person we think needs it, even if they politely decline it, and greeting someone who might not speak to another living person that day or week. It is about demonstrating genuine care and concern for other people.

I think too it is particularly relevant to young people. With such a fast pace of change in society and with our deepening immersion in the digital world, we are yet to recognise their long-term effects, whether positive or not. While social media attracts notice for vile behaviour, there is also generosity of spirit online.

Yet peer pressure and a feeling that young people especially have to emulate celebrities and post photos daily can be a strain for those who don’t realise that they are not alone in struggling to keep up appearances online. And because many have more ‘friends’ online than in the real would, some do not have anyone with whom they can chat over their problems.

We have never been so connected yet simultaneously disconnected.

While people want to be happy and so many present an upbeat persona, this can often conceal inner unhappiness, conflict or worry. Job security, money worries, health concerns, cares for family or friends weigh many of us down, often creating stress and anger, when we feel less than courteous.

From experience, I know just how much a smile, a kind word, a small gesture given freely can lift that weight, even for a moment. If everyone took the opportunity to observe people around them and gave just a few moments a day, I believe the impact of hundreds of millions of small acts of courtesy would be huge.

That doesn’t mean that there is no courtesy already. Perhaps because I am part of the National Campaign for Courtesy I am now more aware of it, but I am conscious of many people who do behave courteously. For all the bad press that young people receive, I find many to be courteous. Some could even be role models for older generations.

So, while the impact of single small acts of courtesy might not seem significant, I think the sum of these apparently nice but harmless behaviours is much bigger than some think.

That is my opinion, but what is yours? I’d like to see more debate with the Campaign about the relevance of courtesy in our live today. Please let us know your views.

• Robert Zarywacz is courtesy consultant for the National Campaign for Courtesy. He also runs his own PR and marketing communications partnership at z2z.com. Follow @robertz on Twitter