5 Ordinary Courtesies

It is no secret that I am a fan of Stephanie Dowrick's work, and recently I went to hear her speak at Shearer's Bookshop in Leichhardt. She spoke in an excited and inspired way about how she has written her new book, Everyday Kindness, in reaction to a mood she has detected in our culture of wanting more kindness in our everyday lives.

There seems to be an ache for a re-awareness of the importance of simple respect and what Stephanie calls "ordinary courtesies." So often we are caught up in the "big picture," in advancing our own cause (be it personal, social or political), that we forget the most fundamental aspect of peace and understanding: the everyday acknowledgement of the fundamental humanity of each and every person we encounter. So here is a list of 5 "ordinary courtesies," inspired largely by Stephanie Dowrick's words and books, but with some of my own input as well. 

  1. Buy and read the books that you hope will inspire you - Too often we are passive viewers of cultural change. We sit back and comment, for example, on the demise of the local bookshops, remembering the happy days of browsing in our youth, and we forget that if we actually got up and visited them and became regular customers we could save the very things we worry will disappear. The same goes for movies, theatre, art, spirituality...If we want a vibrant local culture the responsibility for its long-term survival lies with us. Stephanie envisages a community of "reading activists" who advocate for books, authors and writing. You can become an activist for anything, just become involved, engaged and enthusiastic about something you love. 
  2. Use Facebook as a positive form of communication - The social media bully has become an all-too-common phenomenon, and many of us have suffered at their hands. There is little we can do about trolls, but there is plenty we can do about our own behaviour on-line. Never, ever, say anything on-line that you wouldn't say directly to someone's face. Remember that you are still dealing with human beings who have feelings and sensitivities and communicate accordingly. Even more importantly, use your Facebook and Twitter interactions for active good. Use your words to build someone up, to encourage people and praise them for their goodness and hard work. Spread good news and encourage others to do the same. See how good a friend you can actually be on-line, and most of all always write with kindness, respect and tolerance. 
  3. Establish a network of substance - Stephanie Dowrick has, for many years, built up her Universal Heart Network, a large virtual community of like-minded people who share news, events and the seasons together, either in person at Stephanie's events, or on-line through various social media. Now most of us aren't famous authors with incredible networks of thousands of people. But we are capable of establishing and being responsible for the maintenance of our own small networks that spread love, encouragement and support among members. It doesn't have to be formal - it could be simple email list of five or six friends, but it should be active and alert to needs, hopes and possibilities that exist for all of us. 
  4. Encourage and appreciate others - If you are anything like me you might feel embarrassed to openly encourage another person, or to thank them profusely for some good deed they have done. Australians are culturally awkward about such things, we see them as unnecessary palaver that might mark us out as insincere or as grovellers. But the truth is that most people are desperate for exactly this kind of feedback, and receive it with great satisfaction and warmth of feeling. I have for many years made it a personal policy to express my thanks directly to people whenever I can, and I am constantly taken aback by how surprised and moved the recipients are. It is not uncommon for a person to organise an event for 1,000 people and not receive a single thank you for their hard work. Overcome your shyness and your misgivings and tell people how wonderful they are and how much they inspire you and others. It is an immensely powerful act. 
  5. Remember to be kind towards those we love the best - I hold my hand up here - the person I am most likely to be grumpy and short with is my beloved partner of 22 years. The person who has shown me the greatest kindness, patience and sympathy is the one most likely to feel the brunt of my unhappiness and frustration. I am not proud of this fact, and it is something I have been working on fixing for a number of years. But dare I suggest I am not alone? How often do we show the worst parts of ourselves to our partners, our parents, our children and our oldest friends? We excuse it, thinking "they love us no matter what" and we go on to dazzle and charm total strangers with our loveliness and good manners. Just try for one night treating the person you love most as a total stranger, and notice how much more kind and considerate your words and actions become.

Stephanie Dowrick's latest book Everyday Kindness was released in December by Allen & Unwin and is available at all booksellers. 
Stephanie leads monthly Interfaith Services at Pitt St. Uniting Church in the Sydney CBD.
She will be leading an Easter retreat in New Zealand this year - more details here.
You can sign up for Stephanie's Universal Heart Network here.


Anonymous said…
Thanks Walter for reminding me to kin in my everyday.
Thanks Stephanie for reminding Walter.

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