Courtesy: are you a supervillain?

The Flipside

The Flipside of a virtue is what a virtue would look like if wisdom were removed from it. For example, we said that for the virtue of Acceptance, the Flipside was apathy.

The virtue of Courtesy, without wisdom, would be reckless obsequiousness. Too servile. Too self-effacing. You may or may not have run across someone like this. They are annoying because they are in constant motion and will never let you do anything for them. They are busy all the time, buzzing around in other people’s business.

These Flipside courtesy artisans often miss the point: they are keeping themselves busy being martyrs, but they are doing it without love. They often enjoy being the martyr. They are not serving out of a place of love, but from a different, darker place of guilt or pity. This isn’t courtesy, per se. This is, as far as I am concerned, manipulation. I am very wary of obsequious people.

You know that you are being courteous when you stop counting everything you do for others but still do it thoughtfully, and when it has become the most natural thing in the world.

The Disney Scoop

Courtesy, as I mentioned, is one of the Four Keys to Magical Guest Service at the Walt Disney Theme Parks. One of the first things we learned to do, as an example of this, was the Disney Scoop. This is a real, not-made-up gesture which consists of seeing a piece of trash on the ground, unobtrusively, in one quick and unnoticeable swoop, picking it up and discreetly slipping it into the nearest trash can.

This was to maintain the cleanliness of the theme parks, obviously…which is a cornerstone of the Show aspect of the Magical Guest Experience. Once you have become an adept of the Disney Scoop, though, you tend to do it all the time. No matter where you go. It becomes part of who you are. Doing what you can to be of service.

The realities of COVID have made the Disney Scoop perilous, and I’ll be the first to admit that I have on numerous occasions watched an abandoned facemask float by in the wind, thinking, “nope. Not today…” This doesn’t make me a supervillain, in makes me a realist. (Safety is one of the keys, too, remember.)

But do you know what does make me a supervillain? Seeing a sock on the floor in my bedroom for two weeks and refusing to be the one to pick it up and put it away because it isn’t mine.

Oh, now. Don’t tell me you don’t do this kind of thing. Don’t tell me that you don’t think to yourself, “That kleenex that landed on the floor just behind the garbage can in the kitchen isn’t mine, so I ‘m not going to pick it up,” or, “Isn’t anyone going to notice this laundry out here on the couch and put it away? I mean, I’ve said it three hundred times!”

That’s right. We tend to be supervillains at home even more often than we tend to be supervillains in public. These little things: picking up the sock, throwing the kleenex away, putting laundry away…these little things are things we can do. And we can do them without requiring anyone to notice. We can do them discreetly and without calling attention to the fact we did them. Being discreet about it removes the pleasures of martyrdom, which is probably why most of us make a big production out of it when we finally act.

Truly, doing the little things consistently is how you become a superhero. Not because it is your job, not because you want the attention or accolades, but because it needs to get done and you are available.

Courtesy is a self-renewing source of everyday superhero juice.

The absence of courtesy

I barely need to go into detail about this, do I? We know exactly what the absence of courtesy looks like, because when it is done to us, we feel it in every bone of our body. The absence of courtesy–incivility, rudeness, ungraciousness–feels like injustice to us. It feels like injustice because we hold an expectation of courtesy from those around us. It seems like a basic building block of humanity.

We so easily recognize when others are rude or impolite, but rarely do we notice when we do it. This means, unfortunately, that courtesy is not as natural a “building block of humanity” as we might have thought. Courtesy is a choice.

Courtesy is a choice.

Sorry, I feel like you didn’t hear it the first two times: COURTESY IS A CHOICE.

Choosing courtesy

We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

Mother Theresa

I don’t know where you struggle with courtesy, but I would be willing to bet that you have a sticking point. I do. My children do. My indulgent husband does. Would you be willing to redouble your efforts at doing what you can to perform small acts of service, particularly inside your own home or with the people closest to you, without expectation of return, or thanks, or any of the pleasures of martyrdom?

Courtesy is a virtue in which you can measurably increase your happiness through small acts of anonymous service. And remember, according to Aristotle the pursuit of virtue is happiness. This means that you can increase your happiness by making a habit of courtesy.

Forgive me for sounding like a coffee mug, but I want to challenge you to do small things with great love. Make courtesy a way of life!

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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