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Word Wisdom: Courtesy

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
Word Wisdom

When I read through the major news sources in Canada and the United States I am shocked at how polarised the various news outlets have become. It seems to me that most stories and articles are commentary on the events of the day from a particular point of view rather than any type of objective journalism. Many journalists seem more intent on bashing the people and events that are contrary to their opinions than giving a fair presentation of the news of the day. There is very little respect or courtesy shown.

The word “courtesy” was first used in the English language during the 13th century AD. The basic meaning is to engage in polite behaviour that shows respect for other people. Sometimes you do things just because it is polite and kind to do them. Sometimes you say things just to be considerate. Courtesy comes from the Anglo/French word “curteisie.” This was connected to courtly conduct, how to show respect at the king’s court. Now it must be granted that many would go through the motions of courtesy without any real agreement with the words or deeds required. Some people would be courteous only because of penalties given if they were not. This could be viewed as not being true to oneself. But at least people had some level of respect and kindness in their interactions at court.

In the early 17th century courtesy developed as an adjective, as “she made a courtesy call on her uncle.” Perhaps the uncle was undergoing some sickness and the woman made a visit to him. She may not really like that man, but it is polite and kind to visit ill relatives, even if you don’t feel like it. Having common courtesies helped keep the balance between emphasis on community/family and individualism. Sometimes you do and say things for the sake of others.

The dictionary lists synonyms for courtesy as benevolence, grace, indulgence, kindness, and mercy, qualities sadly lacking among many people. Such qualities would also be very useful in the political sphere. It seems to me that party politics have become so entrenched in negative attitudes towards each other that there is no courtesy left. If the Liberals propose something the Conservatives are against it without even considering the possible merits and benefits. When the New Democrats present a policy, the others are quick to denounce it, sometimes without even paying any attention to what is actually being proposed. And it appears to me to be even worse in the United States. Democrats and Republicans are using words like evil to describe each other. Political rhetoric has taken on moral overtones. There seems to be no respect shown to politicians of the other party.

Another meaning of courtesy is to grant a general allowance to others despite facts, a kind of indulgence. People take sides so quickly and have little use for other’s opinions. The current debate over vaccines manifests this issue. Wouldn’t our discussions about Covid19 be more fruitful if there was courtesy involved on both sides? 

Today many people prefer to forgo any courtesy and do only what they want no matter the cost to relationships. The modern social mantra is to be true to yourself and your feelings at the expense of being polite. I think that sometimes you should just do things or say things out of courtesy. It can go a long way towards maintaining healthy relationships. Be kind and respectful, give and show some courtesy. In an era of “I only do what I want to do” there is a lack of respect and kindness in schools, social engagements, media outlets, the political arena, and yes, even in churches. 

As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Let’s all try to find some common courtesy in our relationships with others. It can have an impact on our families and in our country. \

Columnist John Kreutzwieser loves to research words and writes this weekly Word Wisdom column for Moose Jaw Express/  He has an interest in the usage, origin, and relevance of words for society today. Greek and Latin form the basis of many words, with ancient Hebrew shedding light on word usage.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to . Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.