The Strategic Use of Courtesy

Before you read this, you might check out this post by Fred Wilson one “hating” social media posts.

As we plunge forward into the digital world, we begin to understand something more clearly about ourselves. It is something that has been important to us for many, many centuries. But now its value arises from a different challenge. That thing is courtesy.

We know what courtesy is, or at least we think we do. it is defined as

polite behavior that shows respect for other people

Deconstructing this, the need is to show respect. The vehicle for doing this is to be polite. In other words, not just “good manners” for the sake of “good manners”. That is called phoniness. The handshake that disguises a frozen heart. Quite the reverse. Feeling respect one hears the call for conduct that evidences warm feelings. Being polite is the result.

In more barbarous times, this show of respect made possible higher orders of cooperation. For example, going back to the Gothic period, “chivalry” highly developed rituals was the ultimate form of polite behavior. Again, not distant and cold, but personal and warm. Just read Gothic stories to feel the warmth. Persons who could not understand chivalry were of a lesser order. Beyond the pale. Barbarians even,

These days, we say we are less barbarous. We are less likely to engage in frivolous violence towards others. Our behavior is more regimented. More controlled. But it is also less personal. And I would argue, less warm hearted. This should trigger a renewed interest in courtesy, and you find it. For example, in discussing the doctor/patient relationship.

But we have not yet developed standards for courtesy for communicating over the internet. It is still a barbarian space, full of energy and vituperation. I think this will change as we begin to rely on the internet more. Just as driving standards evolved as we began to rely on the automobile more.

Anticipating that this is on the way, you can get ahead of the game. by embracing higher levels of behavior now. How? Learn how to negotiate in a courteous way. Negotiate? Isn’t that a blood sport? Of course not. Only barbarians think that way. Negotiation is where we test for cooperation and mutual respect. And we are just learning how to do this testing over distances in a courteous fashion.


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