“Courtesy goes far beyond the dictates of etiquette, for the generous, perceptive heart has its own codes. The man who never saw a salad fork or held a tea cup may be more instinctively courteous than a nobleman. Courtesy is a facile tool that can smooth the most difficult situations, as I discovered one Thanksgiving.”
More Than Etiquette
Often people think of courtesy as a synonym for etiquette. Yet courtesy goes far beyond the dictates of etiquette, for the generous, perceptive heart has its own codes. The man who never saw a salad fork or held a tea cup may be more instinctively courteous than a nobleman. Courtesy is a facile tool that can smooth the most difficult situations, as I discovered one Thanksgiving.
I had been invited to dinner by a friend who lived in a mountain village in New Hampshire. There was all the nostalgia of the season, even to a horsedrawn sleigh from the station and a ride through snowy woods to the farmhouse. As the family gathered around the fireplace before dinner we heard a car pull up, then a knock at the door. But it wasn’t an expected guest. It was Uncle Jonathan, whom no one had seen for eight years and no one wanted to see. His arrogance and selfishness had estranged him from everyone in town, including his family.
Some of the family bridled and there were exchanges of angry glances. His sudden appearance could have been tensely embarrassing, but no one was so rude as to question his presence there or make him feel awkward or unwelcome. After dinner as we sat in the firelight, he offered a pathetic little excuse for his coming. “I was just passing by (on a wooded path that led nowhere) and since it was Thanksgiving, I . . . I . . “We're so glad you came,” his sister said. “Really?” The bravado suddenly left him. “I was so lonely,” he admitted humbly. Then, embarrassed, he rose, a big man forlorn as a lost child. As he started toward the door, I begged the family silently, “Do something, say something. This calls for more than etiquette or he'll be lost forever.”
He was putting on his coat when his eldest brother detained him. “No rush, Jonathan. Why don’t you stay on at least through Christmas?” Courtesy had saved the day. The traditions of graciousness had kept open the lines of communication so that the family’s problems were smoothed out, and eventually solved. Empathy, imagination, tact, are all ingredients of courtesy which the dictionary defines as “gracious politeness . . . a considerate act or remark.” But Ralph Waldo Emerson penetrated to the very heart of the word when he wrote, “Love is the basis of courtesy.” – By Elizabeth Byrd, in The Madera Tribune, 1965
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia