A Little Respect and Common Courtesy

So I am kind of struggling with this one.

Over the past year or so, business emails from strangers trying to interest me in something start off with the salutation, "Hey Mike". Growing up, my Dad – who was the consummate gentlemen – would have been embarrassed to hear one of his kids show disrespect, rudeness even, to a stranger by using such a casual greeting, especially in a professional environment.

I imagine that there is a study somewhere that analyzed the effectiveness of a variety of greetings in spam emails and “Hey _____" came out as being very effective. In case you're one of those spammers, please note that if the first word in your message is "Hey", it’s the last word I read.

In a bigger sense, it’s about the deterioration of manners in society. It’s about attitude. "Hey" is one letter less than "Dear", but it sends a much different message. "Hey" says, "I don’t know you, but I read a study that says it’s a good way to trick you into reading my spam." On the other hand, “Dear” says, "You don't know me, but I would appreciate a little bit of your time to consider my offer.”

No one wants to be tricked. Everyone wants to be treated with respect. It’s about attitude.

It takes no more effort to be respectful. To smile at someone. To say, “Thank you”. It’s what we used to call common courtesy. And it is a great way for each of us to be leaders in making it more common. Common courtesy is more than an attitude. It is a virtue. A principle. And if you want to be treated with respect, practice the Golden Rule.

So you ask, "What's my struggle?" As I get older, I worry about being too “old fashioned" and I wonder if my musings here are a reflection of a time gone by and are merely irrelevant. I am convinced they're not irrelevant. Here’s why …

Back to my Dad for a moment, if you'll allow me, please. He retired as an executive of a manufacturing company and I had the absolute privilege of working in the warehouse during summers in high school. I got to witness first-hand the respect he showed everyone – from the guy pushing the broom, to the lady in packaging, to the president. And they respected him. Not for his position, but for him – for who he was. A gentleman who treated everyone with respect and dignity, humor and good will.

I read somewhere that JFK was the first president in over 100 years or so to give his inaugural address without wearing a hat and single handedly kill the hat industry. Look at pictures from baseball games in the 50s and men were wearing ties and hats. Society clearly was ready for a fashion change. 

But, the human spirit doesn't yearn for a hat. It does yearn for respect and courtesy – two things that feed Maslow's second highest human need, esteem. Let’s all do a little more to practice respect and common courtesy – it will improve business results, not to mention society.

And, our kids are watching us!


“One's only rival is one's own potentialities. One's only failure is failing to live up to one's own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a king.”

Abraham Maslow

“The true greatness of a person, in my view, is evident in the way he or she treats those with whom courtesy and kindness are not required.”

Joseph B. Wirthlin

“I place a high moral value on the way people behave. I find it repellent to have a lot, and to behave with anything other than courtesy in the old sense of the word – politeness of the heart, a gentleness of the spirit.”

Fran Lebowitz

“In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.”

Thomas Jefferson