Being Considerate

I don’t know where or when the notion of political correctness entered the national dialogue, but I think it’s time we discard the term and return to the simpler concept of being considerate. Most of us were raised to be considerate people who do not go out of our way to offend others. My parents believed consideration for others was a part of basic good manners, and they communicated that belief to me in countless subtle and not so subtle ways throughout the years I was under their care.

Basic consideration for the feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and practices of others requires no apology or even any particular skill. Considerate people recognize that peacefully coexisting on an increasingly crowded planet means we probably shouldn’t blurt out whatever we might be feeling or thinking at any given moment. There is nothing dishonest about exercising a little discretion at moments when we may feel aggrieved or provoked. Consideration does demand some minimal self-control and patience–virtues that, in my opinion, have become undervalued in recent times.

While these arguments may have general applicability in the wider world, my purpose in writing about them here relates to their importance in the work place. I don’t know about anyone else, but I do not go home at night and tell my wife that I think she’s done something stupid, regardless of whether I might have an issue with anything she’s said or done. Similarly, I have enough respect for the people I work with every day to avoid comments that might offend them. Being considerate has nothing to do with being politically correct and everything to do with the basic need to maintain positive relationships with those we interact with every day. Expressing disagreement or dissatisfaction can be done with enough consideration to get the message across, while still being very clear about our own thoughts and feelings. Being considerate allows us to communicate without humiliating, provoking, or otherwise engendering feelings that undermine the purpose of whatever it is we’re saying.

Consideration extends to both sides of a conversation. There is no reason for anyone to look for reasons to be offended. Considerate listeners don’t interrupt or interpret every remark as an excuse to be incensed. Thoughtful people understand that all of us make mistakes, confuse facts, and are, with distressing frequency, dead wrong. The best way to correct these mistakes is honest communication unhindered by name calling or other forms of humiliation that create barriers to understanding.

As I approach retirement and too often confront reminders of age-related diminished capacity (i.e., recent attempt to climb a steep section of the Great Wall of China), I fear that perhaps my notions of good manners are simply another example of falling out of step with the times. I hope others will, however, humor me in my decline by treating others with the respect and consideration I believe we all deserve.