Courtesy Towards Others

Showing courtesy towards others when interacting with them includes customary politeness and avoiding causing them inconvenience.

Courtesy is a social lubricant which makes people feel comfortable with each other.  It includes the overlapping concepts of ‘politeness’ and ‘consideration’.  The University of South Wales Library, for example, has published a Considerate Behaviour Policy that asks library users to be “considerate and courteous to others using this space”.

The expected courtesy towards others varies between communities:

People can make each other feel better by observing the expected courtesies.  Failing to be courteous degrades the quality of another’s life.

In a pluralist society, the obvious default form of politeness with strangers would be in the form of conventions determined by the majority culture – such as customary greetings. Greetings and Customs Around the World vary considerably, as documented by diversityresources.com.  To take just one example: “Japan is known for its respectful bows, a contrast to the casual Western handshake and the warmth of a hug”.

Within small close-knit groups from a minority culture, ethnic customs might be observed between group members – but with strangers it is clearly more tactful to comply with majority customs, at least to begin with.

It is a basic courtesy for people to speak the language of the region where they live.

The term ‘courtesy’ also includes considerate behaviour: avoiding annoyance to other people, for example, and acting to avert their discomfort. Young people are expected to be considerate towards those who are old or frail, by offering them a seat on public transport for example.

People may want to ask others to behave differently, to reduce their noise level for example. It is courteous for people to accede to such requests, particularly if politely made, though there can be complications – as discussed below (4.4.3).

Within this meaning, the term ‘courtesy’ does not require entering into conversation or getting to know someone well.  It is merely a safe guide for everyone’s behaviour.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/4424.htm