Andy Walton looks at whether there is a "Religious Right" emerging in Britain
Why do we not say thank you?
22nd June 2009
Picture the scene: Monday morning rush hour and you’re waiting to leave a busy
The design of the
Transport for London appears keen to promote courtesy to fellow passengers, with most buses featuring posters reminding passengers of such basic manners as offering a pregnant woman a seat. Their presence implies that courtesy is counter-intuitive, something for which we need a reminder.
Last week, Julia Unwin of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, writing in The Guardian, called for a renewal of solidarity, hospitality and civility to mend our society. Along similar lines, writing in Retail Week, Lord Kirkham urged a return to “standards” in British shops as those who assist us are less service-orientated than their predecessors in a bygone age. When did we lose our good manners, and why?
Unwin’s comments coincided with a Rowntree Foundation publication that claims that society feels a loss of shared values due to the growth of individualism, selfishness and consumerism. The perception seems uncomfortably true.
Those who forget simple courtesy consume services as if they are a right rather than a privilege. They may argue that having been paid for the ticket, the bus company has an obligation to convey them quickly and comfortably to their destination. But that is precisely the point. As the philosopher Michael Sandel pointed out in his first Reith Lecture, market mechanisms leave fingerprints. Paying for something absolves us of the responsibility of basic human courtesy – or so we think. We’ve paid for it, so we no longer need to be grateful. We become not so much human beings associating with human beings, as individuals rationally maximising their well-being in a marketplace.
Recent changes in that marketplace have not helped. In the bank or supermarket we use the self-service machine – that is when we are not banking or shopping on-line. The sense of individualism is reinforced. As we encounter people to thank less and less, we take services for granted more and more. We forget to give thanks where it is due because the people we meet are simply processes in the market mechanism of life.
The Rowntree Foundation reports a popular conception that loss of values correlates with a decline in religiosity in the modern world, specifically, for many, the loss of Christian values. If this is correct, then what values do we lack and how could we fill the breach?
The importance of community and the recognition of shared humanity are values highlighted by all religions, notions too easily forgotten when preoccupied by individualism and consumerism. We must acknowledge that cities are the product of all of their parts and can only function by community. This acknowledgement may in turn lead us to realise that in the city, values of solidarity, hospitality and civility, expressed by means of courtesy and thanks, are all the more important as the help and services of others are essential for aiding our busy lives.
Only through recognising our place in community will we come to realise how many people we should thank for keeping our lives on track. But as long as the city drives our lives forward at breakneck speed we may not find time to recognise this at all.
Oliver Henderson Smith is a recent MA Divinity graduate from the