Measuring Courtesy: An Experiment

Essay by chococatCollege, UndergraduateA-, November 2008

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Everyone likes to believe that he or she is altruistic to a decent extent, that is, unselfish in behavior that benefits others without regard to consequences or rewards for oneself. No one, after all, would regard himself or herself as selfish or unethical. While the word altruism may carry with it a connotation of extreme attitudes or behaviors of pure compassion and empathy towards others, less extreme and more common concepts that tie in with altruism include courtesy, politeness, and civility.

There have been both supporters who see courtesy as a necessity and critics who think it is the new political correctness (Cicognani, E.,1993). But throughout the debate about courtesy, there appears to have been some confusion about what it is exactly and why it is important. Adam Smith recognized that the desire to do the right thing by others is based on a deeply rooted human need to feel worthy in the eyes of others (Billante & Saunders, 2000).

Billante and Saunders (2000), proposed that civility should be understood as being made up of three elements: civility as respect for others, civility as public behavior, and civility as self-regulation. Courtesy and social interaction between men and women and between young people and the elderly has always been central to social rules of behavior. Most people, however, would agree that thoughtful behavior and common decency are simply forgotten in today's fast-paced and self-serving world.

Our concern with such things as manners and etiquette is interesting because it acts as a measurement to people's moral virtue, social cooperation, and issues of ethics. Courtesy and consideration for others when it involves one's family, friends, or those of close relations may not be a surprising aspect. On the other hand, courtesy towards strangers requires that one behaves in certain ways towards people who...