Common Courtesy Is No Longer Common

This is the 69th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.


Someone once asked a Southerner,
“Where does the South actually begin?”
The Southerner said, proudly,
“When you notice the children say, ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, ma’am.'”
But good manners are not a matter of geography.
There are as many polite children in Caribou, Maine, Wichita, Kansas, and Tacoma, Washington as there are in Natchez, Mississippi.
The don’t learn politeness from a postmark.
They learn from a parent.
But not nearly enough seem to be learning anymore.
Common courtesy, unfortunately, has become an uncommon virtue.
You’ll know you’ve done a good job of teaching when your child says:
“Thank you for teaching me to say ‘Thank you.'”


This is the second ad that Harry Gray wrote about manners. The first one was titled, “Whatever Happened to “Yes, Please”?, and I thought it would be worthwhile reposting here again:

It went the way of “Thank you”, Excuse me”, “Yes, sir”.
Do you know who just about killed all those phrases?

All of us.
We did not use them enough.
We now get, “Huh?”, “What?”, “Gimme more.”
Mannerly responses are learned at home.
Rude, barbaric responses also are learned at home.

William of Wykeham, who was born in 1324, said,
“Manners maketh man.”
If we’re so smart in the 20th century, how come we’re not as civilized as William was in the 14th century?
To the child who says, “Huh?”,
pass along this page.

I wrote at the time I published the above post that one of the best compliments I ever received was when a neighbor told me, on the day after Halloween, that just about the only kids who said thank you when they got their candy the night before were the Borden boys.

I also noted that I doubted if many men would list manners as one of the attributes that make someone a man, unlike William of Wykeham.

Unfortunately, Gray wrote his posts over 30 years ago, and if you were to judge by what is going on around the world, in the U.S., and with our election, you would have to say that things have gotten worse.

But I had written a previous post that offered some hope, potential signs that at least people are thinking about he importance of good manners and kindness.

Titled, “Is Nice the New Black“, that post looked at some recent best-selling business books that stressed the importance of being nice, being kind, and having good manners. These books had titles such as:

  • The Thank You Economy
  • The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t
  • Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over–and Collaboration Is In
  • The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness

I’ve read all of them, and can highly recommend them.

And just like that blog, I’d like to end this post the same way, with the words of Ellen Degeneres:

“Be kind to one another.”

And not just in the South…

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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