“Ceremonies are different in every country, but true politeness is everywhere the same.”
“So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
One of the things that struck us most whilst traveling in Japan this year was the politeness and consideration that everyone afforded to us – stranger and friend alike. In busy train stations, on the streets of the city, in universities and schools, everyone wanted to help us. That in itself is wonderful, but it was the manner in which help was given that was most significant. It went beyond respect, and was certainly not carried out in deference.
In Japan, politeness is a serious matter. Politeness matters.
There are rules and regulations of politeness that might seem over-elaborate to a newcomer to the country but are so natural and performed so unassumingly that the sincerity is quite evident.
The subtlety of placing hands together and a slight bow of the head in greeting have a welcome and calming influence. The time given to say “thank you” and “please” and “sorry” is laudable and in no way does it seem trite or rehearsed. In fact there are many words for these three expressions of politeness that are used in different situations and to different people. The important thing to note though is that this politeness is an integral part of life in Japan.
We ask our children at an early age to say please and thank you. We ask them to show politeness with elders, amongst others. Yet, sometimes, we tend to afford more politeness to those unknown to us than to the people who really mean something to us. We can get very blasé about our attitudes to others, when a simple act of politeness would make all the difference to their daily lives.
Politeness – genuine politeness goes well beyond etiquette. Etiquette is a show of politeness. Politeness itself carries with it an absolute desire to respect and value the people in your lives. Perhaps today, we could consider how we are going to show those we care about a bit more politeness – with meaning and without being contrived.