The Disappearance of Common Courtesy. ~ Vince Sparks

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Common courtesy is slowly fading.

*Disclaimer: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.

The milk of human kindness is curdling and soon will be sold as Greek Yogurt.

The propensity for humans to look out for one is suffering. So many people are immersed in this Twitter, Google, Android, and iPhone world. “Get out of my way, don’t stand in my hotspot,” seems to be the common mantra.

People become so engrossed in their own electronic paradise, they stop noticing anyone they aren’t texting, talking or tweeting to. Crowd’s march like zombies with their heads down enraptured by the screen on their cell phone.

They stumble over curbs and into oncoming traffic in their smartphone daze.

Recently, a person made it on the news for falling into a fountain, because she was texting while shopping.

Can there be anything that important, that needs to be texted, that makes someone oblivious to a large pool of water?

Unless I receive a text that informs me I just won a million dollars, I will remain aware of my environment. Shouldn’t we at least look out for one another as a member of the human community? I don’t need to play “dodge a human” on the street, because everyone is busy on his or her smartphones.

Many people have a crazy notion that cell phone conversations take place in a magic cone of silence. Guess what? There isn’t one. People need to show consideration and keep phone conversations to themselves. Riding on an elevator, phone calls should go to voicemail.

Unless the elevator is free of other people, personal conversations should remain just that.

I am not a morning person, and really don’t want to engage in a conversation until I am in my office. I can do without the onslaught of useless morning gibberish. Recently on my early morning elevator ride to work, I was subjected to hearing about Anne and her yeast infection, as she shared the medial ailment with Aunt Hazel. That falls under the category of “Too Much Information.”

Occasionally, I clear my throat to remind the over sharing strangers that I am present, and can hear their conversations. It never works. I respect everyone’s humanity, but keep it out of my personal space. I don’t need to hear such personal drama before I’ve had breakfast. I haven’t even sipped my Dunkin coffee and my appetite is ruined for the day.

Instant communication has made people impatient.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been stampeded trying to get off an elevator. If someone is waiting for the elevator, and the doors open, isn’t it appropriate to wait and see if passengers are getting off? They don’t need to run full speed through the doors. People are so concerned with their own destination; they forget to consider that other people may exist outside of their own agenda.

Please, let me get off the elevator before jumping on. It will make the day go much better for all of us. If I wanted to Dosey Doe with a stranger, I would be at Gilleys with my boots on.

Hamsters in a cage show more awareness of their surroundings.

I haven’t heard of “Hamster Wheel Rage,” but people seem busy trying to run each other off the highway. I believe that road rage is a product of the digital/electronic age. It’s the fact we are too distracted by peripheral gadgets that we lack concentration on our main activity—driving.

If someone is drifting out of the car lane or driving slower than the posted speed, most likely they’re holding their cell phone. They cut people off, make last minute left turns from the right lane, and generally cause hazardous driving conditions.

In New Jersey it is law to only drive using a hands-free device. Yet, I see people everyday driving and caressing their phones. What is wrong with these individuals? Maneuvering a four thousand pound vehicle of steel, glass and plastic at high speeds should make them pay attention. If not for fellow drivers, then do it for their own safety.

Does the grocery list really need to be discussed on the way to the supermarket? Let the debate over baked or regular Cheetos wait until the car is safely in the parking lot. I don’t need to be rear ended, because someone can’t decide what low fat cottage cheese tastes best. Stay off the phone and away from my lane of traffic.

At the grocery store, have that “all important” conversation in the privacy of the car. I try to avoid the smartphone addicts stumbling around the aisles, blocking the path of other shoppers, and having conversations I don’t need to hear.

Again: the cone of silence does not exist in Whole Foods; the nipple-piercing saga should not occur at the Deli counter.

People get so engrossed in their own reality; they forget other people occupy the planet. Everyone needs to be aware they’re not the only one shopping, unless they’re like Barbra Streisand, who’s reported to have a shopping mall in her basement. Why do neighbors or friends see each other in a supermarket and decide to have an impromptu reunion in the middle of the aisle? Please don’t give me that look of disgust when I say, “excuse me.” I am only trying to reach for a loaf of bread. I am not attempting to crash your meeting in aisle five.

It is about working together as socialized, thoughtful people that make the daily flow of life occur without all the inconsiderate incidents. The ease of everything at our fingertips can cause some laziness. The couch potato society has risen from their La-Z-Boy recliners and has ventured into the great outdoors. They’re in search of electronic devices and more fast food consumables.

Also, many people appear not to care about their appearance in public. There is a website highlighting scary attire called It is a disturbing photo display of customers in their shopping clothes at the discount capital of the world.

I tell myself the pictures have to be staged, because no one would dress like that in public. Where is our overall sense of dignity?

I understand why companies started Casual Friday in the workplace, but contemporary culture has taken it out of the boardroom. Suburbia has adapted it in a twisted, skewed way. Originally, khaki pants and no neckties were considered casual, but now it is Old Navy pajama pants and slippers. If someone is too lazy to get dressed and can’t get out of their pajamas—stay home. Perhaps it is time to rethink that sense of style.

I really don’t need to see someone’s thong, bra straps, butt crack, or family jewels. I wanted a pleasant afternoon browsing through Target. I didn’t know I would develop Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome while purchasing a Swiffer.

It doesn’t take much to be kind and considerate. It won’t ruin the day to be courteous and hold a door open for someone. Be aware of surroundings. The cell phone is a good tool, but it is not a lifeline. The umbilical cord was cut at birth; we’re all on your own now. Let’s act like it. It takes a matter of seconds to show concern for someone else. A random act of kindness can change everyone’s day.

People will be shocked what they can see when they aren’t staring at the screen of a cell phone.

The beautiful blue sky is above them, not at their feet. The text, the tweet, the game of Candy Crush can wait. Life isn’t placed on hold for anyone.

It keeps moving forward. Get in step and acknowledge other people’s existence.

The drones that want to keep their heads down and continue the relationship with an inanimate object must get out of the way.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Marc Smith at Flickr 

The Elephant Ecosystem

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Vince Sparks

Vince G. Sparks, an avid reader and writer, is a genetically creative person with a talent for expressing the written word. Vince has a background in communications, public relations and journalism and spent many years in human resources navigating corporate America. He masterminds the blog Sparks Ignites, where he shares his “slice of life” stories with insight, humor and extra-dry wit. Currently, Vince is crafting a young-adult, fantasy, adventure novel series, which reimagines the reader’s notion of the North Pole and the world of Santa Claus. He is a member of South Jersey Writers Group.

For more and to stay connected, check out his Facebook and Twitter pages, and visit his website.

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anonymous Sep 10, 2014 7:22am

As an avid biker (Harley Davidson) who often rides hundreds of miles a week I see this trend as just dangerous. People care so much for their facebook life that they don't care for the real people around them. I'm old enough so that most of my life was pre-wireless/internet/cellular. This aspect of life was far better then. The sociopathy that exist today wasn't something that existed. Life wasn't perfect but, people weren't literally killing each other out on the highway because they were addicted to a cyber life. There's a real world out there that's far better than the cyber one.

anonymous Aug 26, 2014 4:06pm

I wholeheartedly agree with the article's focus on the need for common courtesy but agree with Olga's point that the author's tone and rigid list of what's acceptable is a little on the self-righteous, dictatorial side. Criticizing "…neighbors or friends (who) see each other in a supermarket and decide to have an impromptu reunion in the middle of the aisle"? Really? Isn't that what we want MORE of in life? Sure they should be considerate if they're blocking others' access to food on the shelves, but you seem genuinely upset with the fact that they're actually being human, alive, and compassionate with each other in public!

    anonymous Aug 26, 2014 9:41pm

    Thanks for reading my article and replying. I am not trying to be self-righteous or dictatorial in my view of displaying courtesy to other humans. I am never upset about people being human. I am upset when people aren't cognizant that other humans exist out of their sphere of reality. A meeting of friends in a supermarket is wonderful, but not at the exclusion of everyone else shopping.

anonymous Aug 24, 2014 8:22am

I agree with most of this except the elevator discussion. If both people were there, you might not complain. One side of a conversation means only half the noise. Barring subject matter, I’m okay with less noise. But i don’t expect silence either.

    anonymous Aug 26, 2014 9:47pm

    Rich: Thanks for reading my article and leaving a comment. I agree with you about a conversation on an elevator. If several people on the elevator are chatting that is expected. I have done that myself. I am referring to cell phones and their intrusiveness in our lives. They certainly have a function, but we shouldn't be at their beck and call 24/7.

    anonymous Aug 27, 2014 8:20am

    Thanks for replying to my article and sharing you opinion.

anonymous Aug 22, 2014 10:27am

I'm sorry. Not on the same page with you. I accept other people's interference in my life as it is something I can't change.
It seems to really bother you that you overhear personal conversations and encounter rude people on the street. It must be very irritating to go through life when strangers are getting to you on a daily basis. I heard a lot of judgement and rules that are a little self-invented. "Riding on an elevator, phone calls should go to voicemail."… Really?
Don't let that or my comment screw up your day. Instead, smile and genuinely ask how is the intruder's morning coming alone. People react to kindness and they are not changed by judgement.
Ironically, my comment itself seems to be judgmental 🙂

    anonymous Aug 22, 2014 5:05pm

    Olga: Thanks for responding. Your comments certainly don't screw up my day. My article was tongue-in-cheek, and I don't let people get to me on a daily basis. I am just highlighting that we need to be courteous to other people if we are to exist together. It is about showing kindness and consideration for everyone. To think that judgement doesn't exist in everyone's head is unrealistic. As you just said yourself 🙂

anonymous Aug 22, 2014 9:21am

Wow, this was great! I agree 100%, my husband refers to this phenomenon as "concept other than self". Most people have NO concept other than themselves, that is what it boils down to. We don't exist in a vacuum, our choices impact others, our words and actions impact others. It's about time we acknowledge this.

    anonymous Aug 22, 2014 9:39am

    Lauren: I couldn't agree more with your words. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply, and I am very glad you enjoyed my article. I am sure there will be more to come.

anonymous Aug 22, 2014 9:16am

Thank you for such an entertaining and OH SO right on article. This needs to be shouted from the mountain tops.

    anonymous Aug 22, 2014 9:37am

    Thanks so much for the reply. I really appreciate your feedback, and I am glad you were entertained.

anonymous Aug 22, 2014 8:03am

I couldn't agree with you more! That really needed to be said and you did it in a non-threatening way. Good for you!

    anonymous Aug 22, 2014 9:36am

    I want to be courteous and reply. Thanks for reading, and I am so glad you enjoyed it.

anonymous Aug 22, 2014 7:12am

great article!!!!

    anonymous Aug 22, 2014 9:34am

    Thanks so much. You are a great source of support.

anonymous Aug 20, 2014 9:11pm

A terrific article. How true.