Paying it forward: Catching on to common courtesy

Andrea W. Doray, Alchemy
Posted 7/12/12

Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series on courtesy. In recent weeks, I’ve been asking friends and readers to tell me about …

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Paying it forward: Catching on to common courtesy


Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series on courtesy.

In recent weeks, I’ve been asking friends and readers to tell me about people they’ve caught being courteous — letting someone with two items go ahead in the check-out line, that sort of thing. The responses I got are both overwhelming and heartwarming. My longtime friend Bill in Texas is recovering from a hip ailment and using a walking stick. He tells me he is impressed with the courtesy people have shown him: “All genders, ages, ethnicities of people have opened or held open doors for me to go through.”

Bill says he’s always held doors open for others because he was raised that way … and because it’s the right thing to do. Bill says, “It raises my spirit to see and receive this treatment.”

Such a simple act of courtesy — holding a door for anyone, especially someone who might have, as my mom or dad would have said, “a hitch in his git-along.”

Kat, a mother of young twins and a friend who follows this column, sent me this story:

“When we were living in Minnesota, every morning during my commute I saw an older couple on a walk. Without fail, they would be carrying a small grocery sack and would stop to pick up litter. The woman appeared to be more frail, and on some days, only the man would be out.

“My thoughts tend to drift randomly when I’m driving, and inevitably I would think about their simple act of courtesy and kindness. Instead of walking by and seeing the litter, they were doing something about it (and it wasn’t lost on me that there was litter along that route every day to be picked up).

“My commuter mind would want to stop to thank them, or to publish a letter in the community paper expressing my appreciation. But then I’d get to my job, and the rest of my day would whiz by without another thought of this couple until I would see them the next morning. We were unrelated lives with a similar morning schedule.

“Our family moved to Oregon, and, of course, I haven’t seen them since. And I never wrote that letter or stopped to thank them. Instead, I am now a litter picker-upper. I walk the kids to school each day, and each day I find litter. We’re not the only ones who walk this route, so it’s apparent to us that others either don’t notice, or don’t care. Or, like I did before, maybe people notice and grumble internally but keep on walking.

“I wonder, though, if maybe others notice me picking up the litter — that a silent appreciation may carry forward to other acts of kindness in their days.

And I love that my kids see me do it, not because I want to be recognized for it, but rather because I care. I notice.

“I never acknowledged the couple, and they’ll likely never know they made a difference that was bigger than just a clean(er) morning walk. In reality, we were more than unrelated lives sharing a similar morning routine.”

Kat, like many of us, believes that courtesy and kindness are their own rewards. We can talk about courtesy, as I have, these past few weeks, but we are more than unrelated lives sharing our streets, our neighborhoods, our communities, our cities. Sharing that kindness, offering that courtesy and living lives of civility are the real ways to pay it forward. Says Kat: “So that’s my courteous act. I simply stoop. I feel good when I do it. It’s great if it ends there, but I have a feeling it doesn’t.”

I think you’re right, Kat.

Andrea W. Doray is a writer from Arvada who likes loud music on hot days, a brand new pack of pens and a clean note pad, and open windows instead of air conditioning. She does not like litter or pet poop and thinks that carrying a pick-up bag might be the best idea she’s heard all summer. Contact her at


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