Grace and Courtesy Takes Flight
September 7, 2018
The airplane was filling rapidly as I settled into seat 10C on board my flight home one Friday evening this past summer. Several rows in front of me, a woman was struggling with her bags; trying to lift the heavy load into the cramped overhead space. If wasn’t going very well and it was obvious as the struggle was creating a delay in boarding the remaining passengers. I assumed some of our fellow travelers near her would rise to the occasion and render assistance; even for purely selfish reasons so that the flight could take off on time. No such response occurred as strong, able-bodied individuals paid little attention to the ensuing misfortune and remained in their seats.
This would have been a perfect opportunity to express a little grace and courtesy. At least a “Can I help you?” would have gone a long way to show some basic civility. Observing the unfolding situation, thoughts quickly ran through my head. Have we become so self-absorbed that we don’t even notice when others are in need of help? Have we become so jaded that we just don’t care about others in need around us? Has our addiction to our devices, which many passengers were on at the time, left us void of empathy and real human connection?
Many years ago, Maria Montessori observed that learning grace and courtesy can occur at an early age. Once taught, she noted in her work, “The Absorbent Mind,” the attributes of grace and courtesy become habits and the child begins to no longer act thoughtlessly. Rather, they begin to quite naturally see these attitudes and behaviors as part of what it means to be in community. From the basics of preschoolers learning how to politely ask for help, greeting each other and cleaning up after themselves to elementary and adolescent students learning to navigate difficult conversations and solve interpersonal conflicts, grace and courtesy can be learned and reinforced if it’s made part of the environment and expectations.
We don’t need to look far to see examples in our world where grace and courtesy are in short supply. From harsh comments and interactions on social media to the coarseness of public dialogue; from road rage to self absorbed isolation, grace and courtesy seems to be in increasingly short supply.
As the Daycroft staff gathered last week to begin our year together, we spent some time reflecting on this notion of grace and courtesy. It’s central to the culture and ethos of a Montessori-inspired educational model. We explored ways that we can keep grace and courtesy alive and well in our classrooms and agreed to make it a commitment for the year ahead. How we eat lunch together, how we play on the playground, how we greet one another in the morning, how we bid farewell at the end of the day, are all important aspects of our life together.
The researchers and designers of The Responsive Classroom, a social and emotional learning strategy being utilizing in our classrooms this year, have found a direct correlation between the healthy social interactions of students and their academic success. Dr. Montessori would have agreed. Grace and courtesy not only makes us a better person. It can also make us better students. I hope you’ll join us in our efforts to make grace and courtesy a priority this year.
On another recent flight, a different scenario to the one I described above unfolded. As the plane landed and docked at the gate, there was the usual scramble for bags from the overhead bins. Several passengers were rushed to deplane as they tried to make connecting flights on a tight turn around schedule. The gentleman next to me stood to retrieve his own bag and then began to pull other bags out of the bin, passing them back the isle to other hurried travelers. His friendliness, attention to the needs of others and willingness to get involved didn’t go unnoticed. He was greeted with kind words of thanks and gratitude from the recipients of his grace and courtesy. “Making the world a better place…one suitcase at a time,” he responded with a smile. That’s grace and courtesy in action. I trust we're finding ways to live it.