Thoughtful can mean both “kind” and “thinking.” Historically the two were closely related. It was the sign of a thinking person to act in kindness, to have good manners, to show sincere courtesy towards others. Courtesy evolved as a vital aspect of wisdom, because thinking people understood the far-reaching personal and social benefits of a thoughtful and courteous population. Thinking through to the logical conclusion, if courtesy and thoughtfulness were the rule rather than the exception throughout the population, everyone would enjoy being around other people more. There would be less stress and more camaraderie.
The little details of everyday life would improve for everyone. People would look forward to simple activities like buying groceries, driving to work, stopping at the bank, shopping for clothes; because those activities would involve seeing people who are pleasant as a rule. People would be more willing to take their free-time activities out where they might see other people: going to parks, walking in the neighborhood, sitting outside saying hello to other people walking in the neighborhood, walking downtown, visiting the library, going to outdoor markets, participating in community events. It almost seems like a dream of yesteryear to many, the ideas of enjoying meeting people, enjoying talking with “strangers” out in public every day.
Everyone gains from a thoughtful society, where people are more helpful, caring, reliable, trustworthy, intelligent, responsible, and more pleasant and enjoyable to be with. These are all qualities associated with being thoughtful.
Conversely, where courtesy and thoughtfulness are the exception rather than the rule, people are rude, suspicious, negligent, unreliable, sloppy, arrogant, irresponsible, unaware, self-centered. This describes much our daily encounters all too well. As a result, people stay inside to avoid too much human contact. It’s draining. People come to expect a rude, sloppy, abrasive, and careless public and that is what they find today.
Some people even insist abrasiveness is healthy because people say what they really think, and don’t suppress their feelings. That reveals a sad state of people. Politeness and courtesy are deeply felt expressions most of the time, and even when not felt, they are still more advanced forms of interaction and discipline. Thoughtfulness is wisdom because courtesy injects positive energy into the world around you. It actually lifts people and improves the quality of life for everyone. It is a lost art, and an essential standard we should live up to.
It’s easy to be part of the solution to this problem: be thoughtful. We can still learn from the old cleric from about 1340 who said, “(In Paradise) There one learns to live well in wisdom and courtesy, for no villainy enters there” (The Remorse of Conscience). We have stopped using high standards to guide us here on earth, we have forgotten the essential connection between wisdom and courtesy. Who would not rather see a re-assertion of that connection, to go out and participate in a thoughtful society, where people are helpful, caring, reliable, trustworthy, intelligent, responsible, pleasant, and more enjoyable to be with?
Read more from my book
Call of the Active Mind
©Copyright Robert Rose-Coutré 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016