Thursday, February 23, 2012

Courtesy or Formality

How do you judge if a gesture is courtesy or formality?

As an Indian, we are very bound to the rituals and traditions we follow. Our tradition teaches us to be courteous to our guests, family and friends. But when does this courtesy turns into a formality?

When someone arrives from outside, we offer them a glass of water to drink first. That is the first gesture of courtesy. We offer them hot or cold drinks followed by snack, lunch or dinner appropriate to the time they have arrived.  But now a day this tradition is vanishing quickly among the city dwellers.  We do it with more fanfare when we expect someone special or looking forward for some guest.  But when we do the same thing repeatedly for a person, it becomes a mere formality.

When we get a call from our relative or a friend after a long time, we end up asking and telling about well being of the people we know. It is called courtesy. But if  they keep on repeatedly asking about same things on repeated basis, it is called formality.

A common conclusion what I derive is that, when something is very exclusive or exquisite, we enjoy the courtesy. But if it keeps on getting repeated, I think it reduces to a mere formality.

Like I have an uncle of mine who is a perfect example of my conclusion. When someone meets him at first they are very happy at the courtesy he extends towards them. The more frequently they interact with him; they get to know it’s a formality which he has embraced.

Another fine example of this would be at workplaces. A newly joined employee is excited in his initial days at his new office. He greets everyone enthusiastically as soon as he arrives, wishes them “happy weekends” when the weekend approaches and so on. But as the time progresses and he gets to understand his work, surroundings and politics involved, his greetings become mere formalities or in most of the cases, vanishes.

So how can a courtesy remain a courtesy and a formality remain formality? It is when you try and understand where you need to use what and why we need to make those gestures.Say for example, in a business crisis client conference call, we can make use of the two at same time. When you start the meeting, there are customary greetings exchanged, introducing the participants of the meeting. This is formality. As the issues get discussed a resolution is made on how to tackle the issue, an important statement can settle many tensed nerves, when you say with a little voice modulation, that “We are there to help you in all possible ways”. Now that is what I call courtesy. Why do we do it? Because, it enhances relationships and sends out a message of assurance between the people.

How about a less formal scenario? Say a friend of your kid comes home for the first time, you talk to him, tell him ‘feel comfortable’, etc. But if he starts visiting daily for say night studies and you keep on telling him feel comfortable, he knows he can never be comfortable.  A scope needs to be given for anyone to venture out in any given space , for him to get acquainted and used to the atmosphere. But if you keep constantly hammering upon to adjust or feel comfortable, the process cannot be fast forwarded. Every action takes its course of time. There is no magic button which can make such feelings emerge quickly.

If one is a good face reader or judge of the words, they can easily identify the distinction. The face is a mirror of thousand unspoken words. Either they catch it in the face or through the voice modulation or pitch they use. Courtesy is like a salesman going an extra mile to gain the customer satisfaction even before selling the product and formality is like a salesman who just stands next to you and when you ask any questions about the product, his reply would be “all the details are given there itself. Read it yourself.”The presence is there but not impactful.

I also believe it has something to do with how the person has been brought up. If they have seen or been around people, who are either courteous or formal, they pick up the same trait. I see this theory true with my cousins, whose father has a very formal behavior. They have seen him throughout his life like that and hence they eventually ended up picking up the same trait. Now when we meet them in some function, they just exchange customary greetings and a formal imposing smile.

So is it good to be courteous or good to be formal? No one can judge it at this very moment. The situation which we come across is the true test to conclude which one is better. If one wants to be more courteous then formal, they need to change their attitude and perspective of the things which keeps getting repeated. Enjoy it every single time as if it were new.

I leave you with these few quotes on Courtesy:

It is better to have too much courtesy than too little, provided you are not equally courteous to all, for that would be injustice.
Baltasar Gracian

“Nothing is ever lost by courtesy. It is the cheapest of the pleasures costs nothing and conveys much. It pleases him who gives and him who receives, and thus, like mercy, it is twice blessed. Erastus Wiman

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece of literature. Nice thoughts Prits.. I liked it..
    Thanks for sharing


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