What Is Politeness?

In high school I took a etiquette course where I learned, among other things, how to eat a watermelon with a fork and a knife and that I should never wear a strapless dress to a dinner party because I’ll look naked over the centerpiece. Despite the ridiculousness, there was one piece of information that has remained invaluable. The course defined politeness as “thinking of others more than yourself”. This description surprised me, as I had always seen politeness as something more cultural or traditional, a list of rules we had all agreed to follow. But once I learned the true definition, even the “silly” rules started to make sense. I learn how to eat watermelon with a fork and knife so that I don’t accidentally send a seed flying onto someone’s face. I don’t wear a strapless dress to a dinner party to spare someone the embarrassing burden of imagining me naked. And of course things like, “Please”, “Thank you”, helping those in need, listening attentively and not interrupting, avoiding gossip, and respecting other’s opinions are all profoundly significant ways to consider the needs and feelings of others above your own. Politeness, it turns out, is very, very Christlike. 

I read the most fascinating (albeit colorful) essay by Paul Ford on the subject of politeness and Ford made this observation ::

People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment…
[When I am polite] I am often consumed with a sense of overwhelming love and empathy. I look at the other person and am overwhelmed with joy.

I’m beginning to view politeness as a really helpful resource for treating people the way that Jesus wants me to treat them. My tendency is to be rude— to think of myself and my needs before others. (A more insidious tendency of mine is to be polite on the outside without a true desire to respect and love those around me.) But this year I’ve been asking God to help me be more selfless toward others and I’m thinking I might need to pick up an etiquette manual from the library…

What about you? How do you view politeness? Do you deliberately try to be polite all the time? Does it help you love people better? Any good stories? I’m interested in your thoughts… 

(Art by Esther Stewart; Article via Cup of Jo; etiquette tips via Skills You Need)


Posted by Aanna on Wednesday, September 17th, 2014


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