One year at summer camp we had a commissioner named Bill, a trim college-age guy with closely cropped hair. Bill was the epitome of organization. His uniform looked great. He was always where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there. We could always depend on him to do what he was supposed to do.
While friendly, Bill seemed a little too business like to us boys. The commissioner we had had the previous year was a much more easygoing fellow that was easy to joke around with. We had given that commissioner an affectionate nickname that was, uh, less than respectful. He took it all in stride and had great fun with it. We tried to do the same with Bill, but it didn't go over well.
One evening as we sat around the campfire, our scoutmaster, Al Parks talked to us about what it meant to be courteous. It was more than just being nice to people. It was showing genuine respect for others.
Al said that Bill had treated each of us boys with kindness and dignity. He was right about that. Although Bill seemed a little uptight, he also seemed to reflect sincere regard for even the snottiest kid. Bill had a different personality than the previous year's commissioner. To him, our attempts at playfulness seemed hurtful and disrespectful. Bill wondered what he had done to deserve such treatment at our hands.
We were invited to think about how we could more positively interact with Bill. We started joking around about it, but soft spoken Al gently let us know that he was quite serious. So we got serious about how we could have fun with Bill while still showing him the kind of respect he showed us.
It didn't take us long to come up with some plans. The rest of the week went much better. We enjoyed Bill. And by the end of the week, he even learned to enjoy our troop.
Courtesy is the lubricant that makes for pleasant social interactions. Insincere courtesy may help avoid some social scrapes, but it still fails to convey respect. Real courtesy requires actual respect for others—an inward belief in their innate dignity.
My Mom carefully trained her sons in the finer points of courtesy and good manners. We haven't always lived up to Mom's teachings. But we know how to do so. To this day, I open doors for my wife. I do this, not because I think she is weak or incapable, but because I love and respect her.
We live in an age where potty humor is greatly celebrated and marketed to our youth. The broader culture teaches kids from their earliest ages that they can get ahead by 'dissing' others—that they can build themselves up by putting others down.
But that is not the way of the scout. Scouts are (or should be) taught to see the best within each individual and to treat each person in a way that lifts them toward their best potential. It is more than a way of acting; it is a way of thinking.
A scout is courteous.