Unconditional courtesy

“Good manners cost nowt, but can put many a pahnd in tha pocket.” So goes an old northern saying, but I’m glad to say that even when I first heard it spoken, when I was a little boy in Yorkshire, I thought its reasoning was a little twisted towards self-interest.

Some of us, notably diplomats and socialites, have weaponised good manners; the more we detest somebody, the more scrupulously polite we are to them. It only those people we like who we would presume to chaff. Perhaps common courtesy is simply an extension of consideration; of doing as we would be done by, but I think there’s more to it.

We have a cat-flap in our back door to allow our cat to come and go as she pleases. But if I happen to be in the kitchen and Tamarisk wants to go out, she will disdain to use the cat-flap and wait instead for me to open the door for her, which I invariably do. Also, if I happen to see her approaching the back door from the garden, I will open it to let her in.

Tamarisk does not acknowledge these little efforts I make on her behalf, seeing my consideration as being no more than her due as a superior being, and I take pleasure in this; my courtesy is not conditional on her appreciation.

Suze and I are always careful to be kind to our kindred creatures; dogs, deer, badgers, pigs, foxes, sheep, rhinoceroses, hedgehogs, cattle, cats, wasps, goats, rabbits, etc, etc. Kindness to animals carries no conditional payload other than making us feel a little happier with ourselves, in contrast to our use of manners in our dealings with others of our species; where formal courtesy is so often a cloak, the folds of which may conceal a stiletto.

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