Table of Contents

Introduction

This chapter emphasizes the need of good manners in everyday life. The narrator gives accounts of two instances. Through them he proves that both good manners as well as ill manners are infectious. Writing in a humorous tone, the narrator also warns us against discourtesy in a very subtle and amusing manner.

The Case of the Lift-man

The chapter opens with the account of a lift-man. It narrates an incident that took place in a city office. A young lift-man had retaliated with violence against a passenger who had refused to request courteously to be taken to the top floor of the building. The passenger had refused to accompany his command with the word “Please”. 

The narrator asserts that though good manners are always considered agreeable in a civil society, they are not legally enforceable. There is no legal system that demands that the people of a society act in courteous ways. Due to this, the law decreed in favour of the complainant, although most people would sympathise with the lift-man.

Having made this point, the narrator also admits that bad behaviour can not be excused simply because it is not legally punishable. The case of the lift-man shows that though a lack of a respectful gesture from a passenger was very much a cause of humiliation for the lift-man, the law cannot punish anyone who displays bad behaviour. It is the responsibility of the individuals to regulate their behaviour and public conduct.

The Infectious Chain of Bad Temper

The case of the lift-man makes the narrator think of it in a larger context. The ill behaviour of the passenger, though not excusable, could have been because his own employer might not have acknowledged his presence with a kind “Good Morning”. The employer, in turn, could have had a rough conversation with his wife, who could have been upset due to the housemaid’s bad behaviour, and so on. This chain shows that bad behaviour is infectious.

The Case of the Conductor

The second case presented is that of a polite conductor whom the narrator had met several times on a bus. The narrator says that while most people in this job are disposed to an aggressive manner and a loud voice, he was unlike them. In fact, he once displayed exceptional kindness and saved the narrator from great inconvenience.

As the narrator once mistakenly boarded the bus without any cash and dreaded the impending humiliation, the conductor politely excused him. The narrator, too, displayed a similar good behaviour when once the conductor accidentally stepped on narrator’s foot with his heavy boots.

From then on, the narrator observed the conductor’s cheerful countenance and it always pleased him to see his polite conduct with others. He was an extremely good-natured man and treated everyone with kindness and patience. He was considerate to the old and caring to the children. To the narrator, a single journey on the bus with him was a lesson in natural courtesy.

The Contagiousness of Good Behaviour

The case of the conductor proves that even good behaviour is infectious. One’s agreeable personality lightens up the atmosphere and lifts the moods of others. There is no constitution that permits or prohibits any kind of behaviour. There is no rulebook that lays down the guidelines to proper behaviour or makes provisions of punishment for bad behaviour. It is simply a basic responsibility of every person of a society to exhibit polite demeanour.

Conclusion

Both the cases establish that though not legally punishable, bad behaviour is never acceptable. Similarly, though not legally enforceable, good behaviour is always welcomed. This chapter also asserts that the response to bad conduct should never be violent or aggressive. Only by dealing with boorish behaviour with kindness can we foster positivity. This concludes that courtesy is a hallmark of a civil society.