英語裏有說：Manners are taught, courtesy requires thought.（大意是：禮節尚可教，禮貌須修鍊）。人的行為舉止是心靈的外衣，禮貌是一種修養，而修養決定了一個人的胸懷和格局。
What does "courtesy" mean?
I went to a meeting in Paris last November. After the meeting, three CityU colleagues and I were waiting for the elevator. When an elevator farther from us arrived, some local people waiting near it insisted that we go in first since we were there before them. Because the elevator was not big enough for all of us, they would wait for another one rather than cutting in front of us.
This experience reminds me of the queues I often see in Hong Kong at crowded public places such as shops, bus stops, restaurants and subway stations. Yet, under similar circumstances, all hell would break loose unless staff members were there to keep the line in order. Those standing near the arriving elevator would swiftly slip in rather than yielding to those who got there first. Take Hung Hom Railway Station for example. Quite a few people would charge into the cabin to get a seat even before the passengers on the train have a chance to get off.
What we see in Hong Kong is of course a big improvement over many places in the Mainland. However, as a city which is proud of proclaiming itself an international metropolis, Hong Kong should hold to a higher courtesy standard.
I used to think that Hong Kong people do not have the time to be bothered with courtesy because they are just too rushed. But then people in Japan also live and work at a frantic pace. Anyone who has visited Japan will notice, whether in a small town or large city, that the Japanese people always stand on one side of the escalator, leaving a passage for those who are in the hurry. In Hong Kong, this passage is often blocked.
Similarly, people seldom talk in a loud voice on the train or in the subway in Japan. Rarely will you hear the ringing of mobile phones or find people talking on the phone, though the number of mobile phones in Japan is comparable to that in Hong Kong. Once many years ago, I witnessed on a train from Kyoto to Osaka a young man retreating to the platform when his phone suddenly rang. Another time I was taking a subway in Tokyo at midnight, when a drunk passenger got on the train. Immediately another passenger offered his seat to him and held him up all the way. Such considerate behaviour in public places has become a common way of life among the Japanese, not easily seen in Hong Kong, I'm afraid.
In fact, China has been known throughout history as a land of courtesy and politeness. Confucius once said, "When villagers gather to eat, I will not leave before the elders," meaning that younger villagers, as a sign of respect, should stay until the elderly who move around with the help of walking staffs have a chance to leave the banquets. Village banquets and waiting on those with walking staffs are both ancient rites in China. Little did I expect that I would witness the revival of the lost rites in Paris and Tokyo.
As an English saying goes, "Manners are taught, courtesy requires thought". A man's behaviour and manners are the outer shell of his soul. Courtesy is a form of cultivation, and one's self-cultivation will decide the breadth of his outlook and personality.
Is this a case of "bringing back the rites from foreign countries when they are no longer found in our own land"? We have a lot to do in this regard.
February 4, 2013