Courtesy: Your First Line of Defense

Written by on February 2, 2011

“It’s difficult to find a courteous person today who isn’t trying to sell you something” – Unknown

Federico Freire was glad to be home.  The Marine had just completed two tours of combat in Afghanistan, where he fought terrorists and helped keep our country safe.  He deserved a little rest and relaxation.  So, on Christmas Day he decided to take his wife to the movies.  They both looked forward to a fun evening.

How It Started
Shortly after the show began, two rows of unruly teens started shouting at the screen and talking loudly on cell phones, disturbing other moviegoers.  Federico politely asked the teens to be quiet and “have some respect for others”.   Instead of respect, what he got in return was a barrage of curses and insults.  His wife, Kayln, quickly called the manager, who then booted the teens from the theater.

Laying In Wait
Those teens had a surprise up their sleeve.  Later, when the couple walked out of the theater, a group of 15 teen girls with a grudge were waiting for them.  They surrounded Kayln, intimidating her and threatening to beat her up.  Federico grabbed his wife and ran into the parking lot, looking for their car.  But it was too late: another group of 60 teens had already formed around them.  As the mob closed in on the couple, they chanted “Fight! Fight!  Fight!” Suddenly, a dozen teens started attacking the couple.

Fortunately, a good Samaritan had been watching and intervened, keeping the frenzied crowd at bay.  This gave the Freire’s a chance to escape.  By the time police arrived, the crowd had swelled to 300 people, who all watched the attack and did nothing…except for that one brave soul.

A few days after the incident, Federico was interviewed by the local news.  Disheartened, he said, “Coming back to the States and seeing the criminal activity…it makes me wonder: what am I fighting for?”

Could Have Been Avoided
This tragedy could easily been avoided.  How?  Courtesy.  Those teens could have realized they were disturbing others and simply quieted down.  But instead, what started as a simple request – “please quiet down” – quickly spiraled out of control and ended up with two people in the hospital.  That’s the impact of courtesy.

A Growing Problem
This incident underscores a disturbing trend in our culture: a  growing lack of courtesy.  We see examples all the time: Grainy video of kids fighting after school or in the classroom…people insulting each other and “getting in each other’s grills”…people getting harassed over social media like Twitter and Facebook…MMA fighters “talking trash” or disrespecting their opponents before a big fight…road rage…and the rampant use of profanity and confrontation.  If you didn’t know better, you’d think discourtesy is actually becoming a value in our society!

But here’s the problem: discourtesy in words can quickly escalate into discourtesy in deeds.  That’s because most fights start with words.  Then tempers flare.  Words turn into physical contact – like a push.  And then fists fly in every direction.  So, as you can see, courtesy isn’t just about “good manners”.  And this is how it ties in with martial arts. Courtesy is your first line of defense.

What Is Courtesy?

But let me back up a minute here and define courtesy.  The best description I’ve heard is:  Authentic politeness, good manners and respect for another’s feelings or point of view”.

Courtesy is a social “norm”.  It’s a way of acting that allows society to function normally.  Courtesy helps prevent misunderstandings and missteps from happening.  Here’s a great quote about courtesy from John Witherspoon, one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence.  He said, …the manners of a people are of consequence to the stability of every civil society…if there is a general corruption of manners, there can be nothing but confusion”.

Is There Still a Place That Teaches Courtesy and Respect?
Yes, there is.  Right here in our academy.  You see, in traditional martial arts, courtesy is one of the cornerstones of our training.  The reason is simple.  Martial arts originated in the East.  And since  these cultures place a high premium on courtesy, honor and respect, it’s only natural that martial arts embraces these values as well.  (If you want to see a great example of this in practice, visit Japan or South Korea.  You’ll be amazed at how polite and courteous the average person is compared to Americans.

Benefits of Courtesy
Why should you be courteous to others?  Is it worth the effort?  Yes.  Courtesy benefits you in many ways.  Here’s just a few:

1.       Being courteous sets you apart from other people.  You instantly stand out from the crowd and people remember you.

2.      Being courteous demonstrates you’re a leader and shows you have self-control.

3.      Being courteous shows you’re humble and want to avoid confrontation.  Remember: most fights start with words.  Courtesy is your first line of defense.

4.      You’ll make more friends.  People want to hang around with others who treat them in a decent, civil manner.

5.      Finally, what goes around comes around.  Although there’s no guarantee, when you’re courteous, other people usually treat you with more courtesy, too.

Here are some simple ways to show courtesy:

1.       Use polite language.  Your parents are right: “please” and “thank you” can do wonders.  Also, refrain from using profanity (swearing).  There’s no need to use it.

2.      Use “I” statements, rather than “you” statements.  Ex. “I’m not comfortable doing that” is better than “Are you really going to do that?” Using “you” statements makes people feel more confronted.

3.      Respect other people’s personal space.  When people invade your personal “bubble”, it makes you feel uneasy.  Keep your distance and realize cultures have different norms on how close they feel comfortable.

4.      Respect other people’s time.  People are busier than ever these days.  Don’t place undue demands on their time.

5.       Finally, this one is simple: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.  The golden rule has existed for centuries because it works.

So this month, with our focus on courtesy, we want every student in our academy to be a shining example of what courtesy means in practice.

— Senior Master William J. Babin

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