“Here, Take My Seat and This Guy’s Too”

Posted in Tirades at 10:02 pm by admin

It has been three years since my last tirade. I must have mellowed. I would like to share a new word with the world and get it into common usage. The word is miscourtesy. Most English speakers will know the word courtesy and the opposite of that word, discourtesy. I will get into the specifics of these two words soon, but first…

A momentary diversion into set theory is called for at this time. If you have the set X and then everything else, or Not X, and you combine these two sets, you end up with the set of everything. If X is courtesy and Not X is discourtesy then everything must either be one of these, or the other. For example, allowing another person to pass through a door before you is a courtesy. If discourtesy is the opposite, that is the NOT of courtesy, then passing through the door ahead of someone else would be a discourtesy. So, no one can pass through a door when another is present without at least one person being discourteous. This is an absurd proposition, so there must be other categories of activities, things that are neither courteous nor discourteous. Out of this vast category, I would like to carve the new category of MIScourteous.

There are two major types of miscourtesy. The first type I will define is the type where one is courteous to another where the courtesy is no real benefit except perhaps a feeling that it affords the offerer of the courtesy. For example, If a person is walking immediately behind another and the first opens a door, holding it open for a second to allow the other through, this is a courtesy. However, if the second person is quite a ways back and the first must stand holding the door for, say 10 seconds, this is a miscourtesy. This delay does not benefit the second person in any significant way and it is an unreasonable burden for the first person to take on, so why do people do this?

The only explanation is that the first person percieves some value in standing like an idiot while the second approaches the door. This assumed burden of the first places a burden to hurry on the second. After all, to allow another, clearly courteous, person to stand like an idiot would be discourteous. This hurrying is a courtesy offered now by the SECOND person, but in the emotional exchange, the lead person now has one up on the follower. The leader has, in a sense, placed a burden on the follower in the name of courtesy. This is not courteous.

In my own experience as the second person in the above exchange, the first courteous individual will soon ask a favor of the second. In a transactional analysis of the exchange, the second person still holds the burden of returning a courtesy that was never a courtesy to begin with.

This begs the question, exactly how far back does the second person have to be for the courtesy to become a MIScourtesy? I have a rule of thumb: If the door would still be slightly ajar when the second person arrives to open it, you are clearly in the courtesy category. Beyond that, and you risk being miscourteous.

The second type of miscourtesy is a bit more difficult to explain. I will give a prime example to illustrate. Suppose you are driving down a busy street. You have been waiting in a line for two or three cycles of a traffic light. Either the light is cycling very quickly or traffic is moving slowly, but it has taken a while to get to this point. The light turns green and you are only a few cars back. It looks like you are going to make it through the intersection this time when the car in front of you stops short. You stop short as well. Then the kindly driver of the car in front of you motions to a line of three cars that have just pulled up to enter the busy street from a parking lot. After a second or two of hesitation, the cars begin to enter the busy street ahead of the car that is in front of you. During this exchange, the light turns red and you wait again.

What do you do at this point? The kindly driver in front of you was clearly trying to be courteous to the people in the parking lot. Why, if not for him, they might be trapped there for hours waiting for a chance to continue. However, you were only inconvenienced for a few more seconds. Well, except for the traffic light that has turned that into a minute or two. And what of the people in line behind you? I have watched as the courtesy has created major traffic delays as, during each cycle of the light, some new person lets two or three more people on the road ahead of the crowd that has been waiting patiently (or maybe angrily) for their turn. I have watched as cars drove into a parking lot, passed a block of cars waiting at a light and then exited the parking lot much farther ahead in line.

The problem goes beyond simply inconveniencing one group for a courtesy to another. I watched a near collision take place where a kindly driver (third from the end of a short line) tried to allow a person out of a parking lot ahead of them. In this case, however, the victim of the courteous driver’s good will had to cross another lane of traffic. I watched as a truck, hurrying to make the right turn at the light, nearly collided with, not only the parking lot car, but the two cars waiting at the end of the line. If the kindly driver had simply moved as expected, the truck would have made its turn without incident, the two cars behind would have made it through the light and the parking lot car would have joined our line on the, now all but empty road. This person’s courtesy nearly caused hundreds of dollars of damage and endangered the lives of the occupants of four cars.

This is a real problem. In our society, there is certainly room for courtesy. But before extending a courtesy, one should be certain that the courtesy is not a miscourtesy to others. Any attempt at courtesy that enters the realm of miscourtesy should be met with derision and scorn.

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