COMMENTARY: Why has courtesy become so uncommon?

by Jan 24, 2022OPINIONS0 comments



One Feather Editor


Patience. It is a virtue indeed. And, like me, I am sure you all could use a good dose of it. Pardon me for being rude, but we have become a society of, if not community of, discourteous people.

Don’t believe me? Get in your car and take a drive around the Qualla Boundary. If you don’t have someone cut in front of you, pull out in front of you, ride your bumper, or try to sear your retinas with their high beams in your rearview mirror, you deserve a reward or you are tooling around in a marked patrol cruiser. And if you happen to call out that bad behavior by flashing your lights or tooting your horn at the offender, be prepared for a curse word, laughter, a display of a finger, or some other, more aggressive form of road rage. Traffic signals, caution and speed limit signs are merely suggestions. The attitude is “stop, if you feel like it” or “go 10 to 20 miles over this posted speed limit”. And this is just on the roadways.

Social media and offshoots like virtual meeting platforms have provided a lifeline in many ways for people who might not be able to communicate or have human contact in other ways. I have been a big fan of social media myself for many years and I think it has many useful benefits. We have maintained productivity levels in business and government that might have not been achievable otherwise. We have an open line of inexpensive communication with friends and family throughout the country and around the world. Virtual meeting platforms were becoming popular pre-pandemic. During the pandemic, they became an essential business tool that, even at this writing, we depend upon as COVID-19 ebbs and flows.

Some of our leadership in the Tribe have referred to social media as “the devil”. They make this statement because they have seen the darker side of people and their actions because of the environment that social media and virtual presence creates. Inhibitions run wild for some behind the veil that virtual reality creates. Many people drop the pretense of courtesy and ethic when they get behind a computer screen, tablet, or smartphone. I am not sure whether it is distance (“you can’t reach me to do anything about it, so I’ll say what I want, how I want to you”) or some other psycho- or socio-pathologic reason yet to be named, but we are just less courteous when we use the virtual environments.

Some have speculated that social media have made us “closer together” in that we do have those unlimited, open lines of communication. Some friends who are in social work that I have had conversations with about domestic violence have shared with me a mindset that I think applies to this issue. They told me that the reason that perpetrators of domestic violence choose family members for victims is because they, consciously or subconsciously, feel that they are entitled to protection or immunity from moral and ethical behavior within their own family group. They will go through a day absorbing and tolerating what they feel are injustices to them, and then come home to release all their frustration of the day on their family members, because they feel that their family is obligated to take it due to their relationship. To their mind, unlike the man on the street, who might break their neck if they took a swing at him, the family member will just take it because “that is what family does”.  An abuser’s behavior would get them immediately arrested if they abused a stranger on the street, but at home they can be inappropriate or violent, and it might take months or years or never before that is brought to light. We feel more comfortable hurting a family member than we do strangers.

So, if we apply that theory to our dealing on social media, our circle of friends and family become the easiest targets for our venom. While we focus on speaking with our circle, we are using a worldwide platform that passes our thoughts and words to audiences we may never had intended to address. And since the verbal brakes are never pumped when emotions begin to flare up, things are said and done that would never be said or done in a face-to-face engagement.

At least, that is how our fall from courtesy started.

Because of the learned behaviors that come from our experiences on the internet and particularly social media, we have become more discourteous in our in-person dealings. The people skills that our parents and grandparents taught us have been dulled or broken off by our sociopathic desire to have our wants met, at all costs. Screaming and violent confrontations are commonplace, even in a community like ours who have touted traditional, ancestral, and cultural harmony.

“Group harmony in community and kin relationships, and freely sharing and giving time, talent, and treasures.” And “Strong individual character, with integrity, honesty, perseverance, courage, respect, trust, honor, and humility.” Sound familiar? These should. They are two of the seven core Cherokee values identified by our Tribe as standards to live by.

Now, apply one of these two core values to the following life situations: making fun of or name-calling your elected leaders, condemning and ridiculing people of other races, even those who are trying to be a help to and respect our Tribe, and making fun of and belittling our tribal members, using the cover of “That is just how we accept you in Cherokee. It’s humor. You need to have a thicker skin.”

Whatever makes us feel good or superior, that seems to be the mantra of many of us today. For example, the term “work ethic” refers to the personal sense of responsibility for our behavior in our jobs. A good work ethic used to mean that an individual took personal ownership and pride in the job that they did, not for anyone else’s adoration, but because that individual couldn’t feel right about themselves unless they gave their best to a task. And it didn’t matter what the job was; from common laborer to executive, we took pride in our work. No matter what the task, it was like we were signing our name to the outcome or product that we produced. We cared about the quality of our production because it was a part of us. When a person has a good work ethic, you don’t have to worry about them punching a timeclock or even inspecting their work. And you surely don’t have to worry about them being courteous. More likely than not, you will have a difficult time finding a smiling face on most front-line workers today. Customer service is not routinely taught anymore and many front-line workers coming to work makes them mad or sad, and they seem to have no issue letting that feeling get passed on to the people that they are serving or coworkers. They feel like they don’t have any control over other parts of their lives, so taking out their frustrations on their customers is a way to exert some control to get some semblance of feeling good or superior.

I guess I am asking if this is what we want. As individuals? As community? We used to use the term “common courtesy”. It meant that we did things, not to others, but for others. We did those little things that did not require very much time and effort but made a world of difference in our society. We were careful not to walk around looking like we were sucking on a lemon all the time. We had a warm greeting for the people we interacted with and even those we saw in passing. When we disagreed, we did so thoughtfully and respectfully without name-calling or character assassination. We were more concerned about accommodating than being accommodated. And we took setbacks gracefully and learned from them instead of looking to them as sources of excuse for poor behavior. We took the higher path.

Sorry for being so dark. It truly isn’t that dark, but our community and our world sure seem to be getting more distant, even in the face of technology designed to bring us closer together. I must disagree with our leadership in that I see social media is a tool of good potential, but it is like any other tool. A knife in the hands of a surgeon may repair and heal humanity. A knife in the hands of a killer may destroy, maim, and murder humanity. It isn’t the knife that is “the devil”. It is the mind and hand that hold it.