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On Being Polite

Since the pandemic, and probably a bit before it, our once-comfortable world has been in a constant state of change. For some of us this is a very good thing; for others, possibly those of an older vintage, such changes are at times more difficult to understand. In the end, though, change is a good thing. It means we are learning, growing, improving and, at the very least, thinking, although we may not particularly agree with the particular change at hand.

One change, however, has not been particularly well received by some of us at “The Freeman’s Journal”/”Hometown Oneonta”: the redirection, or reuse, or near demise, of the term polite. In fact, the meaning of the word is, according to a plethora of sources, “Having or showing behavior that is respectful and considerate of other people; marked by a lack of roughness or crudity; civil; courteous; kind; behaving in a way that is socially correct and shows understanding and care for the feelings of other people; well-behaved; turning the other cheek; good manners; diplomatic; respectful; conciliatory; showing regard for others in manners, speech, behavior; able to admit graciously to being wrong; disagree without rancor .…”

Etymologically, the word polite is from the Latin word politus, meaning to polish, refine or smooth. It first appeared in late Middle English in the 1500s. Today, it still means refined and polished, but its use seems to be disappearing, as we daily face instances of its antonym, impolite, “not polite or courteous; rude; selfish; aloof; antagonistic; disagreeable; disrespectful; callous; cold; thoughtless; unfriendly; unkind; uncivil.”

Here in Otsego County, most of the towns and villages, and the City of Oneonta, have legally set speed limits at 30, with varying more reduced limits—down to 15 in front of schools—in areas with sharp turns, steep ascents, many children or dense population. In all cases, speed limit signs and/or radar speed signs are well placed to alert drivers to slow down. Very often these limits are abused, and that’s not fair to our dog-walkers, dogs, neophyte bicyclists, runners, and baby walkers.

We are on the brink of a major summer tourist influx, and with it some overburdened streets and overpopulated sidewalks. Many of the streets, most of which have been here for more than two centuries, are so narrow that our 21st-century automobiles cannot pass each other for fear of losing a mirror or two. It’s nice when one of the drivers politely pulls aside to let the other by, and it’s even nicer when the one who gets away sends up a gesture of thanks.

The same goes with our well-defined street crossings and lights, which are not always strictly adhered to by pedestrians and their children who, in their city-refined habit of rushing, tend to cross at will. Watch out for these people, but still welcome their occasionally uttered words of thanks.

The words thank you cannot be spoken enough. Nor can unselfish actions, courteous gestures and respectful mannerisms garner enough praise and, in fact, thanks. In the words of our beloved Eeyore, “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”


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