Politeness and Civility: From the Archive


The woods at the end of the street.

Note: I first wrote this back in April, 2007 and posted it on Facebook before I had a blog. Here it is with a few edits.

Our house is at the end of a street that just ends. No turnaround. No cul-de-sac. Dead End. I guess the initial plans called for the street to continue whenever the adjacent property was subdivided. That never happened and the street (concrete curbs and everything) now stops abruptly at the edge of the woods that border the south end of our quiet neighborhood.

It’s a great place to live with very little traffic, except that people use our driveway as a turn around. On weekends when K-State hosts a home football game or other big campus event, even more cars head down our street looking for a shortcut. But there is no short cut, only the woods and our driveway.

The process of turning around is made challenging by the steep slope of both our driveway and the driveway across the street. Ours goes down, theirs goes up. Initially, there wasn’t even a “Dead End” sign to dissuade drivers from making the short trip down our block. Which is weird because all it took was a single phone call to the city traffic department to get a “No Outlet” sign posted. (Apparently, they no longer put up Dead End signs: the word “dead” might offend.)

The funniest situations occur when someone makes it to the end of our street with a trailer attached to their car or truck. Which happened (again) today. After watching the poor guy wrestle his flatbed pickup and dual axle lawn service trailer into a textbook jack-knife, my wife went out to let him know that he’d have to back up to the first cross street: about 175 yards. I guess he’d never backed up the trailer before (new on the job) and couldn’t figure out how to get it straightened out.

As I approached the driver of the truck, it was obvious from the stricken look on his face that he needed help. I offered to straighten and back the trailer out of our neighborhood. I paused briefly to consider the risk management issues involved in me getting behind the wheel, but, decided quickly to go for it. After a few attempts, I got it backed down the street in a semi-decent straight line.

As he took off to find the right yard to mow, a neighbor standing in her driveway nearby started clapping then congratulated me on getting the trailer backed up. It’s not often that you get applause for simple acts of kindness. But we should. It’s what being part of our neighborhood and community is all about. Civility. Politeness. Helpfulness. A willingness to engage others in the more mundane and simple aspects of everyday life. It’s one of the best things about our small town. And I hope we keep that character as we continue to grow.

What experiences have you had with politeness and civility in your community?

Next week: What’s Pinterest and should I care?