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Recommit to courtesy

| Monday, March 25, 2019

“Señora! señora! Por favor, siéntese aquí!” (English: “Ma’am! ma’am! Please sit here!”)

The words broke through my daydream on a full — yet otherwise unremarkable — Madrid Metro train. I watched one concerned woman, who I’d guess was about 60 or 65, spring into action as she rose urgently and without hesitation from her seat as a young-ish woman looked desperately around for somewhere for her very elderly mother to take a seat. I glanced at the other people sitting down as the young woman gently lowered her mother into the chair. Sitting with and around me was a smattering of youthful people.

I was filled with admiration for this stranger, as I’ve taken enough public transport in my life to know what I had just witnessed was rare. I’ve incredulously stared at countless able-bodied tourists on the Washington Metro who were sprawled across at least one seat while an elderly person, or in several instances a pregnant woman, was holding on for dear life.

Really, what struck me most about this selfless act was the group of young people, myself included, who sat still throughout the entire interaction. I‘m not even sure how many of us knew what was happening.

I don’t think young people show other people — young or old — an appropriate level of courtesy or respect. I am not thumping my chest. While I’ve given up seats on trains or buses in the past, I am embarrassed to say that on the Madrid Metro I remained seated while a woman old enough to be my mother, and maybe even then some, surrendered her spot. I also hate it when people complain about “today‘s generation,” whatever that means. But I do think we have a problem.

This phenomenon is noticeable around Notre Dame. I’ve written Inside Columns in the past about how people walk as if they are the only one on the quad and how others openly and flippantly text in class. Those casual but consistent instances are a part of this broader pattern around campus. However, a more serious problem at Notre Dame that never ceases to incense me — yet serves as the perfect iteration of the issue — is how students treat the people in charge of cleaning their dorms. Over my time here, I have observed a multitude of absolute and untouched messes in many sections or elevator lounges. I can read the minds of the people who left the mess: “The housekeepers will clean it up. That’s what they’re here to do.”

No, your dorm’s housekeepers are not your personal maids. They work hard as it is — don’t go out of your way to make their jobs harder.

Really, the problem is one of “me first.” My fun, my comfort, my convenience, my success before all else. From what I’ve observed, I worry that young people use their youth as an excuse to do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences or problems their choices cause for other people.

I remember in kindergarten having the golden rule drilled into my head: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” What happened to that ideal? When did self-indulgence become our default?

The woman on the Madrid Metro fired me up to double down on courtesy. I believe it’s a mission we should all share. The next time an old person, a child or a pregnant woman gets on your metro train, give them your seat. Then make it a habit. The next time you have an opportunity to throw food around your section lounge, don’t. Then make it a habit. Think about others when you make decisions, no matter how small. Then make it a habit.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Tom Naatz

Tom is a senior at University of Notre Dame. He is majoring in Political Science and Spanish and is originally from Rockville, Maryland. Formerly The Observer's Notre Dame News Editor, he's now a proud columnist for the paper.

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