It is not that long ago that common courtesy was indeed common. It was an accepted social norm; a fundamental part of our society that oiled the cogs of social interaction. Children were taught their Ps and Qs and to respect their elders. This ingrained attitude was reflected in adults that showed courtesy and respect to others, whether they believed those others worthy of such or not. While this was not true of all, it was true of most. Unlike today. Now common courtesy is most notable for its rarity, invalidating its description as "common".
The main benefit common courtesy provided society was not the formulaic courtesy or social manners it provided, but the consideration for others that it engendered. Being courteous necessitates considering the person you are being courteous to. The practice of being courteous therefore instills an attitude of consideration for others.
This is noticeably lacking in modern society. People are no longer considering how their actions may impact others, instead we are operating on the basis of what is most convenient for ourselves. We get on an escalator and stand in the middle of our moving step, blocking the way without any thought that someone behind us might want to walk up the escalator. We park our cars on footpaths without considering that a parent with a pram or pushchair will have to go out onto the road to get past.
A few years ago in Australia I saw a large amount of cars parked all over the verge and footpath outside a gym. Presumably these people were using the gym to improve their fitness, yet they couldn't park their cars legally and walk a little way to where they were going to exercise?
People are still considerate to others, even strangers. The offers of aid in many forms that flood in to help those who are victims of natural disasters demonstrates this. But we only seem to have this consideration when circumstances thrust the need into our faces. We have lost the innate ability to consider others in our day to day activities, because we have lost the education and practice of doing so with the loss of common courtesy.
Common courtesy was inherent in Western society at the same time as racial and sexual discrimination predominated. A very strange mix it is difficult to comprehend. Unfortunately, it has proven to be a casualty of the worthy and essential fight for equality.
Some aspects of common courtesy and many of the men who practiced it, presumed female inferiority. As such, courteous practices were frequently targeted by militant feminists. It has always been my practice to hold a door open for anyone following me. And I mean anyone, child, adult or elderly. During the height of the campaign for sexual equality I had to refrain from doing so if the person behind me was a teenage through to middle-aged woman to avoid the possibility of receiving a tirade of verbal abuse. Because I was a man and she was a woman, apparently the only reason she could perceive for my doing so was that I considered her inferior to myself. That I might do so for a child or another man as well was apparently beyond conception, perhaps a justifiable attitude in some, but still an arrogance I deplored in those I considered to be fighting for a worthy cause.
I am glad that I can again do it for all, and generally receive at least a smile for doing so from women as well as men of most ages; I'm sad that I receive little if any acknowledgment from many younger people. Perhaps they are at a loss as to how to react to someone actually doing so.
The loss of common courtesy from our society has resulted in a decrease in the consideration for others that we seem able to conceive to display and give. The increase in crime and particularly violent crime is a likely result. Courtesy and consideration shown towards others can not be legislated, they need to be taught.
Common courtesy was a part of a society that was unjust in its discrimination, but in the main it was not a causative factor of that injustice. If we wish to improve the society of today, we need to re-instigate common courtesy as a major component of our social interaction.