Common Courtesy Isn’t so Common

Last night I went with my wife to the local Super Wal-Mart to pick up a few items that we needed for the house. Our short trip confirmed a suspicion that I have long had: that common courtesy is a thing of the past.

The trip started rather uneventfully, at least until we got on the two-lane road that leads to the mega-retailer, about four miles from our house. Wal-Mart is located on the left side of the road, and we were in the left lane in anticipation of the upcoming turn into the parking lot. I’ve noticed that most people who need to be in the lane that you are in will speed up in an attempt to get into the lane ahead of your position, rather than just falling in line behind you in a not-so-risky fashion. This evening proved no different as the car in the lane next to me sped up quickly, jerked over into my lane, then suddenly hit the brakes to turn into the parking lot. Of course, there was no turn signal for the lane change, a simple action that would have alerted me to my fellow driver’s need for the left lane, to which I would have responded by simply, and cordially, easing off the accelerator to allow room for us both.

Once we found a parking space, we retrieved a shopping cart and made our way into the store. Countless times we were cut off or nearly hit by fellow shoppers paying more attention to their cell phones than to the people they almost ran over with their shopping carts. We then were subjected to the obligatory “What, are you stupid? Get out of my way!” look as we stood in the aisle in bewilderment.

After gathering up the items we needed, we proceeded to the checkout counter to complete our purchase. The lady in front of us at the register, who was also deeply engrossed in a cell phone conversation, had many more than the 15 items or less that the line was reserved for. After the clerk bagged her items and gave her the dollar amount owed, she told the person she was speaking to on the phone to hold on while she got out her checkbook to pay for her items, either oblivious to the fact that everyone else was waiting on her or just not caring if anyone else was inconvenienced.

We were finally able to leave the store, get into our car, and head back to the military base we call home. Unfortunately, getting out of the parking lot was more difficult than we expected. Why do people find it necessary to get into their cars, start the engines, pull out of their parking places, and then stop at the intersection of the parking lot and the street to find the right CD, or comb their hair, or put on lipstick? Why couldn’t that be done in the parking space instead of holding up other cars trying to exit the lot?

As we headed down the road toward our house, the lady driving the car directly in front of us was clearly confused about where she was going. As we proceeded through the 35 miles-per-hour speed zone, we crawled along at an incredibly slow 15 miles-per-hour, stopping at various points so that she could desperately try to figure out which route she should take. By the time we got home, I wanted to scream at the world with all my might and live the rest of my days as a recluse in the mountains somewhere, ordering groceries and clothes from online retailers to be delivered by mail.

What has happened to basic courtesy? When did we become so concerned with ourselves that we stopped caring about how our actions impacted others? I don’t claim to know what’s going on in society today, but I do know that there has been a significant change in attitude as I have grown older. A casual wave to a neighbor used to result in a return wave and a hello. Now it often results in a strange stare as people wonder what you are up to. A door held for a woman used to be greeted with a sincere thank you. Now, many women don’t even seem to notice that anyone is there. Society is in a hurry and few people are slowing down long enough to enjoy life, be considerate of others, and spread a little bit of goodwill.

Unfortunately, my trip to Wal-Mart was more the rule than the exception these days. The sequence of events last evening confirmed, for me at least, what I had long suspected: that common courtesy just isn’t that common.

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