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Is Courtesy a culture, habit or discipline?

The aspect of courtesy is something I expect while inter-facing and interacting with people from different walks of life. It beats my understanding sometimes when what I expect to be obvious turns out to be foreign to other people. An example is a growing trend that I had to rectify with the nanny at my house. Recently she developed a habit of not greeting the other people in the house. She would wake up and simply go about her business. At first I thought it was an over sight or a one off but soon I realized it was becoming a habit.

I begun to reflect and have some self talk on the matter. One of the reflections was my own childhood. I could not remember a day when I had to be reminded to greet my mother and elder siblings. It kind of came naturally, more like a second nature for all of us, so I anticipated that it was the same for every family but soon I was proved wrong.

Years later I got into a job where my boss grew from the family on the opposite side of my world. I was so shocked the first time I greeted her and she refused to respond to me, I thought I was in trouble or had done something terribly wrong. I immediately wanted to start apologizing but I was not certain about what exactly I would be apologizing for. Later I realized that greeting was not her kind of thing and so I got used to the responses however I continued greeting daily out of courtesy, indeed some days were better than others.

So this has birthed a question in my mind, is courtesy a culture, habit or discipline that must be developed? Courtesy is the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behaviour towards others[1]according to the oxford dictionary. On the other hand, culture is the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group. For example the youth culture[2] This makes it even more complex, so is courtesy part of the African culture, is it our way of being? I think in many ways its part of the African heritage and yet it still does not come naturally for all of us especially the Ugandan context that I am most familiar with.

Habit is something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it:[3]Where as discipline is the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience[4]; could it be that courtesy is a culture born out of habit? After doing certain things all your life, they soon become a second nature for you. I am of the view that courtesy hinges on habit and culture and having said that, I think it is best developed right from childhood. It is embarrassing to see an adult behave in an unbecoming manner. It is more disheartening to know that your daughter or son could marry one of those people who lacked the appropriate character grooming in their upbringing.

Courtesy ought to be our way of life, a second nature, a habit and a culture. The world has had enough rage, anger and hatred; it’s time to embrace the culture of love and empathy. It begins with you- set the example, teach others and correct those that have gone astray. Our culture is as strong as the belief system that holds it together.


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