Courtesy, discipline and respect

In our busy new world have we forgotten three small words?

At a time when ‘enquiries’, ‘task forces’ and Royal Commissions proliferate, I’d like to begin improving all our many societal issues by doing it slightly differently. While all those are worthy of attention, I can’t help wondering whether their complex ponderings and costly outcomes are rather like having new furniture delivered before we’ve established the family or even completed the building construction. We’re not going to fix the environment, or integrate indigenous people, or cut greenhouse gas, or fuel emissions, or save water, or address the problem of family violence or criminal activities or even modify serious health issues until we retrieve a community that upholds societal values.

Rather than wasting time on gastronomical extravaganzas or multitudinous movies to watch, could we not encourage three ideals to lift our collective game: chill out with some courtesy, dive into a little discipline and saturate ourselves in the sensation of respect – and maybe a little kindness for ourselves and for others.

These valuable principles seem to be significantly lacking these days. For example, family violence is a prime topic at present. Yet family violence is only one aspect of the truth that in fact we are largely living in a culture that is permeated with violent attitudes. These are apparent within coarse language, road rage, digital pastimes, general media, fiction and reality. Even worse, all too frequently the leaders in our community show little courtesy, discipline or respect – all of which exemplify attitudes of violence.

Here’s another example – public transport. What a great way to navigate Melbourne … except that all too often, public transport is utterly, disgustingly, filthy. Have the maintenance team actually seen anything resembling a broom since day one? As for a duster – well, who knows, what’s a duster? Oh yes, when you use a duster with regularity all that horrid dust and mouldy fluff and grime disappears. Used on public transport, the moving vehicle might become cleaner and more user-friendly. So others could begin to sense a level of respect and begin to respond likewise.

Then of course there’s the issue of too much information – like that of the private life of the young man in derelict (not just ragged) jeans who loudly confided his part in a relationship via a mobile phone conversation shared by all as he unattractively consumed a late lunch hot-dog while also contributing to general litter. He also required two seats. One to sit on (sort of) and the other to support his feet and the bag he had with him.

Shortly after, there appeared two young women who, so we fellow travelers learned, had inadvertently just met. Surrounded by cigarette odour, their fragile appearance, tubercular coughs and totally insufficient clothing for a very wintry morning spoke of tragedy and brokenness. One, attractive and well spoken was physically bruised. The other, whose monosyllabic vocabulary barely moved beyond one particular, unprintable and repetitious phrase, also communicated family violence because ‘my guy beats us up’. Her friend nodded in matter of fact agreement with the words ‘that’s like my guy, too’. As though getting beaten up is normal.

The picture of those two in that public environment piercingly summarized the fact that life problems can really be traced back to lack of courtesy, lack of discipline and lack of self-respect. Is it too simplistic to ask: what are these ‘guys’ on about? Have they learned their behavior from immersion in TV and similar trash – or dare I say from the growing acceptance of extremely bad role modeling.

Then there was the return journey. My companion, obviously a senior, remained standing beside two seated schoolgirls, about Year 11 or 12 from one of our prestigious colleges. Neither young woman showed the slightest inclination to relinquish her seat for a gentleman (oh dear, equal opportunity and sexual discrimination I hear them whine). But no, one preferred to stay where she was and to loudly chew her gum with an open mouth. The other simply shrank away until their stop came up and they joined another mob of kids to carelessly bombard the footpath.

But guess what? Someone did stand up and offer his seat! A lovely young Vietnamese man, not wearing a suit but a smile and not on his mobile phone either. Now that’s something to remember from a public transport experience! An expression of courtesy, the recognition of discipline – and something to do with self respect I feel. So we all exchanged smiles and we all went home happy, because in time, both he and I found vacant seating, too.

After a good night’s sleep and the memory of that nice young man, I almost forgot the rest of those adventures. Until next morning’s front page news; there was one of our so-called sporting heroes and his similarly ‘prestigious’ mate facing charges relating to drug and firearm offences. And that was just for starters as needless to say, still more local disaster stories unfolded in the pages that followed: sadness, violence, drugs, homelessness and many other non-peaceful misfortunes relative to why these situations occur.

So could it be time to retrace our evolutionary steps a little and spend some energy and funding on the basics that somehow have slipped away in the last twenty years or so? Could it be time to expect more of our citizens generally: time to courteously tidy up the public environment in general, teach the value of discipline and show some respect for all people, not just those who publicly demand it?

It’s all about teaching, really. Teach young men (and young women) to eat at home or in an eating-place (not in public) and to use their mobiles with discretion. Teach them to keep their feet off the seats and teach them all to gather themselves some discipline and self-respect. Teach troubled young women to care for themselves through the discipline of work opportunities that help them discover self-respect and independence. Teach their guys some courtesy. And some discipline and even they might gradually gain enough self-respect to begin to consider others beyond themselves. Teach all young people to think selflessly and to demonstrate care for themselves and others. Teach the school girls and the school boys some decorum in the streets instead of running randomly in large groups all over the footpaths without a care for adult pedestrians … and to take lessons from those who do care – like the young Vietnamese man who remains in my memory to this day.

I’m talking values here, to be re-established through teaching. Teaching that begins at home, teaching that should be in our schools, teaching by example. And then we can forget about the prominent footballers, ‘olympians’, and media aficionados who think only of themselves and who believe that what they believe is OK. Because most (those we most hear about anyway), just don’t understand courtesy, discipline or self-respect at all.

Maybe the solution right now to all our lost causes actually begins with a broom?

Pauline McKinnon ©
August 2015