Column: Small courtesies, common goodOurs is a city of small courtesies. Not small as in mean or stingy: small, as in tiny in stature, pocket-sized.
Ours is a city of small courtesies. Not small as in mean or stingy: small, as in tiny in stature, pocket-sized.
Have you noticed? In Duluth when two people approach a door, one generally holds the door for the other. Clerks and receptionists are typically friendly and helpful. Four-way auto stops frequently have one person who insists “you first.”
It’s the Duluth way.
Almost every day I meet someone willing to go out of the way for the sake of someone else, whether gratitude is on the plate or not.
But a man at the post office this week had me contemplating just how vital small courtesies are to our way of life. I pulled into the main post office and scanned the diagonal parking on the right side. Full. I scanned the diagonal parking on the left side. There was one truck, parked the wrong direction and taking up almost four parking spaces.
The lack of courtesy stopped several post office patrons in their spots. Was he confused? Was he just ignorant of the parking rules? Was he making a political statement about how the government has no right to demand citizens place cars they own in a governmentally regulated position?
Those of us who couldn’t park our cars because of his confusion/statement, came up with our own solutions. He wasn’t going to ruin my day; it was just inconsiderate.
The issue of small courtesies and the common good again surfaced at a rural Wisconsin wedding we attended. During the reception one of my sons tugged on my skirt and said, “Mom! Those guys in the wedding are wearing GUNS!” Whether some threat of violence clouded the future of the sweet bridal couple or the groomsmen were just showing off, four of the groomsmen were packing heat. We were surprised and then alarmed. The men were very young and drinking beer while making sure their weapons were visible to all.
Possibly they felt they were providing a small courtesy of safety. I began to suspect that their courtesy was not for the common good. With young men armed, drinking and, I’m assuming, with little or no training or experience, their open weapons were dangerous for all. Maybe they were making a statement to the public that they were not going to be cowed by gun carrying regulations.
They made a statement all right. The statement made us think we were living back in the Wild West.
My opinion on gun control has been rather ambivalent until I saw these young men using weapons to attain a certain tough-guy look. I wondered if maybe somebody should regulate the use of pistols as formal wear accessories. Their accessory choice/political statement/armed guard role had us scared and heading home early.
Some laws were created to help us, as a civil society, work toward a common good using small courtesies: Please pick up after your dog: not a pleasant task, but it’s pleasant for everybody else to not have to look at it. Because people weren’t doing this of their own accord, somebody made a law about it.
Possibly, this is a natural evolution of a society. As people become less aware of small courtesies, do they also become less aware of how to contribute to a common good? Legislators are forced to add laws and regulations in order to think for people.
As I left the post office, Mr. Selfish Parker was driving out … the entrance. All the cars in the street intending to turn into the parking lot had to block the street until he got out of the way. People already in the parking lot had to stop and wait. All traffic ceased until he got out of the wrong lane and went home.
Those small courtesies add up to great graciousness and a civil society. If we don’t act courteously, our government might just insist on it.
S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother, teacher, writer and reluctant adventurer who lives in Duluth.