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David Nichtern

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The Ripple Effect of Common Courtesy

Posted: 04/26/11 10:00 AM ET

From the Buddhist point of view, there is always a relationship between cause and effect; this notion is expressed in various teachings about karma. As we interact with the world, we plant various seeds that will ripen and grow either right away, soon enough or some time in the future.

If we look at nature, small seeds can have big results; for example, the tiny acorn, given the right causes and conditions, can produce the mighty oak tree. In a similar way, in the world of human interaction, small seeds can sometimes come together to produce large-scale results.

This is why, if we want to create a good world for ourselves and others, attention to detail can sometimes trump having a huge vision. In that attention to detail, if we can lean toward courtesy and consideration for others, there is no doubt that we will begin to generate a more positive overall outcome.

If we manifest grasping, aggression and ignorance in the smallest details of our interaction with others, these energies gather power and strength like an avalanche. If we lace our smallest exchanges with awareness, courtesy, consideration and compassion, we can create a ripple effect with a different outcome.

Sometimes this kind of consideration and attention to detail while relating to others is called common courtesy. Respect and concern for the people around us, as well as using good common sense, are the hallmarks of common courtesy.

Each day in our lives is made up of tiny and discrete moments. Every relationship is made of specific and particular interactions. The whole point of developing mindfulness (as in Buddhist training) is to actually begin to pay attention to those discrete moments and interactions so that they don't all just blur together. I believe that mindfulness laced with consideration for others executed at the smallest scale can actually change the world. Usually we tell people to think bigger, but in this case maybe thinking smaller could be very powerful.

Practicing mindfulness and consideration for others often translates to expressing common courtesy and good manners. We might be surprised to find that everything we want to build up from there -- like compassion, decorum, elegance, well-being, peace, harmony --- has these small gestures as its basis.

That's my thought for the day. What's yours?

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