We were at an outlet mall on a Saturday before school starts–crazy! The thing that really alarmed me was the rudeness. Now I know that different cultures consider different behaviors offensive so with wonder I ponder this experience. Whole families and groups not looking where they are going (often on their phone or looking backwards while pushing stroller forward into crowd) and not one person said excuse me! If they cut across our path or strolled around, no eye contact. As we were leaving the parking lot waiting our turn to enter the lane to exit, another vehicle practically rode the bumper of the car in front so as not to let us have our turn even though we were already moving into place. The driver honked and made obscene gestures with his young daughter (or niece) in the passenger seat.
Growing up in a rural environment politeness was survival, to take turns and say excuse me. When I lived in the South for a few years, that politeness was an ingrained part of every child’s education with “Yes, sir,” and “No, mam,” along with the please and thank you’s. In his book, The Compassionate Mind, Dr. Paul Gilbert reasons that our brains are programmed to be compassionate as a measure of survival. A mother taking care of offspring is an example. Due to our natural evolution and the increase in technologies and opportunities, we no longer practice compassion naturally as humans did before. Our tribal instincts for positive personal contact, for example, are very distracted by personal pursuits of entertainment, achievement, and ever increasing expectations for more.
We must practice compassion on ourselves and others through stillness, kindness, and yes, good manners. Compassion needs to be modeled for our children. This is essential to survival. Several books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler discuss ways that compassion plays in happiness and in bettering our communities (The Art of Happiness, The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World).
As I sat in the porch swing watching the darkness deepen as the full moon’s brightness intensified. I wasted no moments in watching such wonder, nor in saying, “Excuse me,” as I crossed in front of strangers at the mall. This is more than survival.
May you thrive as you practice compassion and teach healthy manners by modeling them.