Courtesy is contagious

  • Published
  • By Col. Chris Crawford
  • 21st Space Wing commander
Colorado Springs is a beautiful location. The view out the window of my office, of purple mountains with snow-capped peaks, is often breathtaking. Unfortunately, when I make trips to the BX, the commissary, the pharmacy, or any number of other places on base, I often see something downright ugly.

I see Airmen, our Airmen, not treating others with once common civility and courtesy. I see customers being rude to each other, cars blasting music, employees taking verbal abuse, and sloppily executed salutes. This lack of mutual respect is not only unacceptable from a military customs standpoint - it runs contrary to our goals of making Peterson an even better place to work, live and visit.

Let me start by talking about civility. An English writer once said "civility costs nothing, and buys everything." I could not agree more. In order to make Peterson a better base, we spend millions of taxpayer dollars on needed improvements. The new child development center facility, for example, will further increase the quality of childcare services at a cost of more than $8 million. Civility, however, doesn't cost a dime, yet it makes any military base more welcoming. It makes us all happier and more comfortable, and almost as important, it makes us more productive as Airmen. In this fiscally constrained environment, a freebie like that seems too good to pass up. Given that, why shouldn't we be civil to each other? More to the point, why shouldn't we lead with an example of civility and foster that trait in our Airmen?

But what about the other side of the coin? Obviously civility and courtesy go hand in hand - you cannot have one without the other. Courtesy, though, plays a particularly important role in the military. It is the bedrock of our profession. The maturity and discipline required to "keep your cool," recognize the chain of command, and react in a reasonable manner are common traits that military commanders and soldiers have shared and cultivated for thousands of years. Without courtesy, we would not be a functional military.

Think about it. Think about your favorite hero, your favorite leader from a movie, book or history. Great leaders and heroes are typically courteous. They treat others with a high degree of mutual respect. They react rationally, and calmly, rather than in an emotional rant. That's not to say heroes don't raise their voice. Many use this style, but they do so only on occasion and only to "fire for effect." Vince Lombardi, arguably the greatest football coach of all time, yelled at his players. He yelled, but he did so with clear control, for a clear purpose, and often with stirring words. Lombardi demonstrated that civility and holding people accountable don't have to compete. Heroes in military roles do the same, and they show respect both up and down the chain of command.

Theatrical and historical villains do the opposite. They do not show respect for their subordinates, and when displeased they make it known loudly. They yell and bluster without control, and with anger, instead of coaching and leading. In short, they do not embody or display courtesy. I submit that lack of courtesy does nothing to engender loyalty or productivity. It does nothing to better the situation of those around them, or inspire their followers, and because of that many ultimately fail in their mission.

Beyond our actions on duty, we in the military also show mutual respect by the act of the salute. The salute is not just a requirement that states a person of a lower grade must salute a person of a higher grade, it is a time-honored courtesy unique to our profession. It is a formal greeting among colleagues that allows both parties to say "I respect you." A sloppy salute, or lack of a verbal salute, simply shows a lack of courtesy.

Anyone who's ever seen an AAFES movie at the theater, and sat through the introduction clip, has heard the phrase "courtesy is contagious." An AAFES trailer may be a strange place to find quotation inspiration, but it nonetheless rings true. Courtesy truly is contagious, but so too is a lack of courtesy. I challenge you to help spread a good example rather than a bad one.

Courtesy is passed from person to person, and it is the job of each of us to exemplify courtesy in our duty and in our private lives. We must hold ourselves to a high standard of civility and courtesy and do the same for both our co-workers and subordinates. Knights of the 21st Space Wing, we must lead by example if we wish to better our base and effectively accomplish our mission.

I know we are not perfect. Everyone loses their cool on occasion or lets a discourteous word slip sometime. However, I ask for your best effort in the cause for courtesy, and leave you with a prescient quote by Coach Lombardi: "Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence."