I am inclined to agree more with Theodore Roosevelt’s assessment that courtesy is “as much a mark of a gentleman” than with Honore de Balzac’s less encouraging assessment of courtesy being “only a thin veneer on the general selfishness.” While the latter may be more predominantly the case, the former holds in it the promise of a brighter future, where the entropic nature of human nature is overcome by specific and deliberate action.
We are not slaves to human nature, although we are born into a world ruled by it. It is generally assumed that you must struggle to free yourself from the chains of human nature, that somehow through human intelligence it can be annihilated, but it is soon revealed to those who attempt to overcome on this basis that struggling only reinforces subjection to, as with a Chinese finger puzzle.
You cannot fear something so much that you eventually gain freedom from it. Likewise, you cannot hate something so much that you eventually are released from its grasp on you. Fear and hatred bind you to the subject of your antipathy. You inevitably move in the direction of your emotional response.
A true lady or gentleman recognizes that fear and hatred are never creative motivations. Both are survival instincts, developed over generations of living in a world that has come under the dominion of human nature, but neither are natural. They serve as a default mechanism for dealing with an often confusing and twisted world, yet in a truly refined lady or gentleman such defaults are never employed as a first line of defense let alone pulled out as a last resort. They are dropped from the vocabulary of “Being” altogether.
Men and women have marveled at the apparent power and seeming invincibility of human nature for centuries, if not eons. Human nature is the great and mighty usurper and those who would dare face it in battle face not so much a formidable foe, but a weak and petty taskmaster who has amassed billions of followers through the years. Its adherents are Christian, Muslim, Agnostic and atheist, in fact, the great god of human nature has little concern for distinctions which has caused its congregation so much grief, such as nationality, race, sex, color or creed. In fact, it welcomes the divisions, for ironically the more divided its congregants are, the more united its congregation is.
The more we fight, the more we argue, the more we disdain, accuse and condemn, the more we play into the hands of human nature. The less we do so, that is, the more we discover common ground, the more we approach one another with an underlying pattern of respect, the more we employ genuine courtesy with one another, the closer we become to one another and to the truth itself.
The truth is never in conflict with itself, therefore if humanity is aligned with the truth it is no longer in conflict with itself. “A tall order,” you might say, to which I reply “the truth eventually prevails.” So, why drag it out? Why not let it be the case in our living? Why not redirect the sense of awe we’ve held for human nature’s beastliness into a pattern of response that moves us in a completely different – more productive and more sensible! – direction?
The choice, ladies and gentleman, is yours. I can point to it. I can describe it in as many ways as I know how. I can implore you, but at the end of the day, the decision as to what you will dedicate your life to rests squarely in your hands.
What will it be?