We live in a world of quickly changing norms and other social rules that dictate our conduct, including conduct with friends, family, co-workers, and strangers. Some people believe social niceties are quaint and outdated and are no longer called for in today’s world of gender equality (or, to be more precise, emerging gender equality). Although I am a “die hard” feminist who believes women can perform as well, or better, as men on many tasks, I also believe it is appropriate for people of either gender, any age, any race, and any ethnicity to conduct themselves courteously. This means I believe it is perfectly acceptable for a man to open a door for a woman, hold the elevator open for a woman, and offer to help a woman if she appears to need help. Conversely, I believe a woman should open a door for a man, hold the elevator open for a man, and offer to help a man if he appears to need help. It goes without saying, of course, that I believe it is acceptable for women to help other women and for men to help other men. The point is that we all live in this world together and it is just as easy to hold the door for someone who is walking a few steps behind as it is to slam the door in his or her face. I have several female colleagues who are insulted when men hold the elevator door open while they exit or who hold a heavy door open as they enter. To these self sufficient women I always say, “Get over it!” and concentrate on solving more pressing problems than those concerning door and elevator etiquette. And, to the countless people, mostly young African American men, who helped me get my mother’s heavy wheelchair out of my car when they saw me struggling, I say, “Thank you, gentle people, for your help!”.
Common courtesies should be gender and race neutral. We are all trying to do the best we can getting through life and looking out for each other, even for strangers; makes it easier to get through life. I was taught to hold doors open for people, to leave the door area near elevators clear for those who are exiting to do so before I enter and most other western norms for social behavior. Melissa is especially quick to assist those in wheelchair or who have physical restrictions which create personal challenges after being on the receiving end for the years she wheeled her mother around in her wheelchair. And, it is reassuring to see when others provide those common courtesies. All it takes is to open one’s eyes and look around, be situationally aware, and not walk to your destination with blinders on. Conversely, it is disturbing to see people who appear oblivious to others and who fail to help those they easily could. Those who don’t are probably discourteous in many other ways as well. Courtesies seem to vary by geographic region and the size of the city. But, even in the biggest city of all, New York City, I have been pleasantly surprised to find many gentle people. In a hurry yes, but considerate, and frequently so.