This above all : to thine own self be true. — Shakespeare

The word “courtesy” conjures up images of holding doors for people, of letting another person in front of you at the grocery counter who has only two items to your forty, of helping someone out. It also goes far deeper than these simple actions.

Courtesy is expecting nothing in return. It is something done not for the rewards, but for the good of it. Stopping to help someone with a flat does not earn an hourly wage, only a heartfelt “thanks.” Courtesy could be donating time, money or support to a local charity. It can also be helping out people in need — with food, labor, clothes.

I think of the showering of goodies that I delivered to a family I know that found themselves suddenly the parents of an eight year-old boy. My car was loaded down with gifts from the people of KOJO — clothes, puzzles, books, a Gameboy. I remember the face of one of the Little Dragons as he brought in some of his GI Joe figures, and hearing him tell his mother that he hoped the little boy enjoyed them. Working in retail, it’s easy to get a cynical view of Christmas as “Buy, buy, buy!” My faith in Christmas was restored by the simple actions of others — it can be a time of “share!”

Bowing to seniors and instructors, addressing them as “Ma’am” or “Sir” is a form of courtesy. It’s showing regard and respect for the work it takes to reach their position and for that person.

These things occur not only in the dojang. One of the fondest memories I have from college is that of Kitaro bowing to me as he entered the room where I was waiting to interview him. I was a college student (okay and fan!), and this man who had multiple albums and multiple awards walks in, bows and extends a hand with a simple smile. The same thing happened when I was introduced to a wonderful Japanese writer. He was seated when I walked into the room. He rose, bowed and again extended a hand and held my chair until I sat. This was a man who won the Nobel prize? Would that Americans greeted each other with a little more than “Yo! How’s it going?” or “What’s up dude?”

Being courteous to others is often easier than extending those same courtesies to one’s self. It’s a matter of do as I say not as I do. How many times have I told others to relax, take a break, enjoy yourself, have some fun — while driving myself to the point of exhaustion, committing to more than I can ever accomplish. It’s also knowing when not to push harder — even if asked.

Courtesy to one’s self is a matter of treating you as you would have others treat themselves — getting enough sleep, taking breaks when needed, eating right and listening to what your body is saying.

Courtesy is many things — favors, charity, politeness, respect, concern, even delivering a service — all done for free or with nothing expected, nor demanded in return. It’s civility at its finest.

Random thoughts on Courtesy:

I can no other answer make but thanks. — Shakespeare

The first point of courtesy must always be truth. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Propriety must be practiced for the proper development of personality, and whoever lacks sincerity in his words, cannot be considered a gentleman. — Confucius

We help ourselves only as we help others. — Elbert Hubbard

Courtesy in every line of life is now the growing rule. No strong man lowers himself by giving someone a lift — no matter who that somebody is. — Elbert Hubbard

Everybody is really decent in spots — I have seen the gentle answer completely disarm a grouch who was bent on chewing the red rag of wordy warfare. Courtesy is catching. — Elbert Hubbard

The knowledge of courtesy and good manners is a very necessary study. It is, like grace and beauty, that which begets liking and an inclination to love one another at first sight. — Montaigne (Essays)

This above all : to thine own self be true.
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man. — Shakespeare

Everyone has to think to be polite; the first impulse is to be impolite.
— Edgar Watson Howe

Adhere to righteousness and do not calculate dane. If those engaged in learning use this principle to establish their minds, then there will be greatness and illumination. — Hu Juran

In the things you do everyday, you must be fully aware of what your human fellow is feeling, what your moral duty is, what proper forms of behavior are and what wisdom is. — Xue Xuan

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