The Book of Business Etiquette Part 1

Book of Business Etiquette.

by Nella Henney.





The business man is the national hero of America, as native to the soil and as typical of the country as baseball or Broadway or big advertising. He is an interesting figure, picturesque and not unlovable, not so dashing perhaps as a knight in armor or a soldier in uniform, but he is not without the noble (and ignoble) qualities which have characterized the tribe of man since the world began. America, in common with other countries, has had distinguished statesmen and soldiers, authors and artists--and they have not all gone to their graves unhonored and unsung--but the hero story which belongs to her and to no one else is the story of the business man.

Nearly always it has had its beginning in humble surroundings, with a little boy born in a log cabin in the woods, in a wretched shanty at the edge of a field, in a crowded tenement section or in the slums of a foreign city, who studied and worked by daylight and firelight while he made his living blacking boots or selling papers until he found the trail by which he could climb to what we are pleased to call success. Measured by the standards of Greece and Rome or the Middle Ages, when practically the only form of achievement worth mentioning was fighting to kill, his career has not been a romantic one. It has had to do not with dragons and banners and trumpets, but with stockyards and oil fields, with railroads, sewer systems, heat, light, and water plants, telephones, cotton, corn, ten-cent stores and--we might as well make a clean breast of it--chewing gum.

We have no desire to crown the business man with a halo, though judging from their magazines and from the stories which they write of their own lives, they are almost without spot or blemish. Most of them seem not even to have had faults to overcome. They were born perfect. Now the truth is that the methods of accomplishment which the American business man has used have not always been above reproach and still are not. At the same time it would not be hard to prove that he--and here we are speaking of the average--with all his faults and failings (and they are many), with all his virtues (and he is not without them), is superior in character to the business men of other times in other countries. This without boasting. It would be a great pity if he were not.

Without trying to settle the question as to whether he is good or bad (and he really can be pigeon-holed no better than any one else) we have to accept this: He is the biggest factor in the American commonwealth to-day. It follows then, naturally, that what he thinks and feels will color and probably dominate the ideas and the ideals of the rest of the country. Numbers of our magazines--and they are as good an index as we have to the feeling of the general public--are given over completely to the service or the entertainment of business men (the T. B. M.) and an astonishing amount of space is devoted to them in most of the others.

It may be, and as a matter of fact constantly is, debated whether all this is good for the country or not. We shall not go into that. It has certainly been good for business, and in considering the men who have developed our industries we have to take them, and maybe it is just as well, as they are and not as we think they ought to be.

There was a time when the farmer was the principal citizen. And the politician ingratiated himself with the people by declaring that he too had split rails and followed the plow, had harvested grain and had suffered from wet spells and dry spells, low prices, dull seasons, hunger and hardship. This is still a pretty sure way to win out, but there are others. If he can refer feelingly to the days when he worked and sweated in a coal mine, in a printing shop, a cotton, wool, or silk mill, steel or motor plant, he can hold his own with the ex-farmer's boy. We have become a nation of business men. Even the "dirt" farmer has become a business man--he has learned that he not only has to produce, he must find a market for his product.

In comparing the business man of the present with the business man of the past we must remember that he is living in a more difficult world. Life was comparatively simple when men dressed in skins and ate roots and had their homes in scattered caves. They felt no need for a code of conduct because they felt no need for one another. They depended not on humanity but on nature, and perhaps human brotherhood would never have come to have a meaning if nature had not proved treacherous. She gave them berries and bananas, sunshine and soft breezes, but she gave them trouble also in the shape of wild beasts, and savages, terrible droughts, winds, and floods. In order to fight against these enemies, strength was necessary, and when primitive men discovered that two were worth twice as much as one they began to join forces. This was the beginning of civilization and of politeness. It rose out of the oldest instinct in the world--self-preservation.

When men first organized into groups the units were small, a mere handful of people under a chief, but gradually they became larger and larger until the nations of to-day have grown into a sort of world community composed of separate countries, each one supreme in its own domain, but at the same time bound to the others by economic ties stronger than sentimental or political ones could ever be. People are now more dependent on one another than they have ever been before, and the need for confidence is greater. We cannot depend upon one another unless we can trust one another.

The American community is in many respects the most complex the world has ever seen, and the hardest to manage. In other countries the manners have been the natural result of the national development. The strong who had risen to the top in the struggle for existence formed themselves into a group. The weak who stayed at the bottom fell into another, and the bulk of the populace, which, then as now, came somewhere in between, fell into a third or was divided according to standards of its own. Custom solidified the groups into classes which became so strengthened by years of usage that even when formal distinctions were broken down the barriers were still too solid for a man who was born into a certain group to climb very easily into the one above him. Custom also dictated what was expected of the several classes. Each must be gracious to those below and deferential to those above. The king, because he was king, must be regal. The nobility must, noblesse oblige, be magnificent, and as for the rest of the people, it did not matter much so long as they worked hard and stayed quiet. There were upheavals, of course, and now and then a slave with a braver heart and a stouter spirit than his companions incited them to rebellion. His head was chopped off for his pains and he was promptly forgotten. The majority of the people for thousands of years honestly believed that this was the only orderly basis upon which society could be organized.

Nebulous ideas of a brotherhood, in which each man was to have an equal chance with every other, burned brightly for a little while in various parts of the world at different times, and flickered out. They broke forth with the fury of an explosion in France during the Revolution and in Russia during the Red Terror. They have smoldered quietly in some places and had just begun to break through with a steady, even flame. But America struck the match and gathered the wood to start her own fire. She is the first country in the world which was founded especially to promote individual freedom and the brotherhood of mankind. She had, to change the figure slightly, a blue-print to start with and she has been building ever since.

Her material came from the eastern hemisphere. The nations there at the time when the United States was settled were at different stages of their development. Some were vigorous with youth, some were in the height of their glory, and some were dying because the descendants of the men who had made them great were futile and incapable. These nations were different in race and religion, in thought, language, traditions, and temperament. When they were not quarreling with each other, they were busy with domestic squabbles. They had kept this up for centuries and were at it when the settlers landed at Jamestown and later when the Mayflower came to Plymouth Rock. Yet, with a cheerful disregard of the past and an almost sublime hope in the future they expected to live happily ever after they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to add, they did not.

Accident of place cannot change a man's color (though it may bleach it a shade lighter or tan it a shade darker), nor his religion nor any of the other racial and inherent qualities which are the result of slow centuries of development. And the same elements which made men fight in the old countries set them against each other in the new. Most of the antagonisms were and are the result of prejudices, foolish narrow prejudices, which, nevertheless, must be beaten down before we can expect genuine courtesy.

Further complications arose, and are still arising, from the fact that we did not all get here at the same time. Those who came first have inevitably and almost unconsciously formulated their own system of manners. Wherever there is community life and a certain amount of leisure there is a standard of cultivated behavior. And America, young as she is, has already accumulated traditions of her own.

It is beyond doubt that the men who came over in the early days were, as a rule, better timber than the ones who come now. They came to live and die, if necessary, for a religious or a political principle, for adventure, or like the debtors in Oglethorpe's colony in Georgia, to wipe clean the slate of the past and begin life again. To-day they come to make money or because they think they will find life easier here than it was where they were. And one of the chief reasons for the discontent and unrest (and, incidentally, rudeness) which prevails among them is that they find it hard. We are speaking in general terms. There are glorious exceptions.

The sturdy virtues of the pioneers did not include politeness. They never do. So long as there is an animal fear of existence man cannot think of minor elegances. He cannot live by bread alone, but he cannot live at all without it. Bread must come first. And the Pilgrim Father was too busy learning how to wring a living from the forbidding rocks of New England with one hand while he fought off the Indians with the other to give much time to tea parties and luncheons. Nowhere in America except in the South, where the leisurely life of the plantations gave opportunity for it, was any great attention paid to formal courtesy. But everywhere, as soon as the country had been tamed and prosperity began to peep over the horizon, the pioneers began to grow polite. They had time for it.

What we must remember--and this is a reason, not an excuse, for bad manners--is that these new people coming into the country, the present-day immigrants, are pioneers, and that the life is not an easy one whether it is lived among a wilderness of trees and beasts in a forest or a wilderness of men and buildings in a city. The average American brings a good many charges against the foreigner--some of them justified, for much of the "back-wash" of Europe and Asia has drifted into our harbor--but he must remember this: Whatever his opinion of the immigrant may be the fault is ours--he came into this country under the sanction of our laws. And he is entitled to fair and courteous treatment from every citizen who lives under the folds of the American flag.

The heterogeneous mixture which makes up our population is a serious obstacle (but not an insuperable one) in the way of courtesy, but there is another even greater. The first is America's problem. The second belongs to the world.

Material progress has raced so far ahead of mental and spiritual progress that the world itself is a good many years in advance of the people who are living in it. Our statesmen ride to Washington in automobiles and sleeping cars, but they are not vastly preferable to those who went there in stagecoaches and on horseback. In other words, there has been considerably more improvement in the vehicles which fill our highways than there has been in the people who ride in them.

The average man--who is, when all is said and done, the most important person in the state--has stood still while the currents of science and invention have swept past him. He has watched the work of the world pass into the keeping of machines, shining miracles of steel and electricity, and has forgot himself in worshipping them. Now he is beginning to realize that it is much easier to make a perfect machine than it is to find a perfect man to put behind it, and that man himself, even at his worst (and that is pretty bad) is worth more than anything else in the scheme of created things.

This tremendous change in environment resulting from the overwhelming domination of machinery has brought about a corresponding change in manners. For manners consist, in the main, of adapting oneself to one's surroundings. And the story of courtesy is the story of evolution.

It is interesting to run some of our conventions back to their origin. Nearly every one of them grew out of a practical desire for lessening friction or making life pleasanter. The first gesture of courtesy was, no doubt, some form of greeting by which one man could know another as a friend and not an enemy. They carried weapons then as habitually as they carry watches to-day and used them as frequently, so that when a man approached his neighbor to talk about the prospects of the sugar or berry crop he held out his right hand, which was the weapon hand, as a sign of peace. This eventually became the handshake. Raising one's hat is a relic of the days of chivalry when knights wore helmets which they removed when they came into the house, both because they were more comfortable without them and because it showed their respect for the ladies, whom it was their duty to serve. And nearly every other ceremony which has lasted was based on common sense. "Etiquette," as Dr. Brown has said, "with all its littlenesses and niceties, is founded upon a central idea of right and wrong."

The word "courtesy" itself did not come into the language until late (etiquette came even later) and then it was used to describe the polite practices at court. It was wholly divorced from any idea of character, and the most fastidious gentlemen were sometimes the most complete scoundrels. Even the authors of books of etiquette were men of great superficial elegance whose moral standards were scandalously low. One of them, an Italian, was banished from court for having published an indecent poem and wrote his treatise on polite behavior while he was living in enforced retirement in his villa outside the city. It was translated for the edification of the young men of England and France and served as a standard for several generations. Another, an Englishman, spent the later years of his life writing letters to his illegitimate son, telling him exactly how to conduct himself in the courtly (and more or less corrupt) circles to which his noble rank entitled him. The letters were bound into a fat, dreary volume which still sits on the dust-covered shelves of many a library, and the name of the author has become a synonym for exquisite manners. Influential as he was in his own time, however, neither he nor any of the others of the early arbiters of elegance could set himself up as a dictator of what is polite to American men, of no matter what class, and get by with it. Not very far by, at any rate.

It is impossible now to separate courtesy and character. Politeness is a fundamental, not a superficial, thing. It is the golden rule translated into terms of conduct. It is not a white-wash which, if laid on thick enough, will cover every defect. It is a clear varnish which shows the texture and grain of the wood beneath. In the ideal democracy the ideal citizen is the man who is not only incapable of doing an ungallant or an ungracious thing, but is equally incapable of doing an unmanly one. There is no use lamenting the spacious days of long ago. Wishing for them will not bring them back. Our problem is to put the principles of courtesy into practice even in this hurried and hectic Twentieth Century of ours. And since the business man is in numbers, and perhaps in power also, the most consequential person in the country, it is of most importance that he should have a high standard of behavior, a high standard of civility, which includes not only courtesy but everything which has to do with good citizenship.

We have no desire for candy-box courtesy. It should be made of sterner stuff. Nor do we care for the sort which made the polite Frenchman say, "Excusez-moi" when he stabbed his adversary. We can scarcely hope just yet to attain to the magnificent calm which enabled Marie Antoinette to say, "I'm sorry. I did not do it on purpose," when she stepped on the foot of her executioner as they stood together on the scaffold, or Lord Chesterfield, gentleman to the very end, to say, "Give Dayrolles a chair" when his physician came into the room in which he lay dying. But we do want something that will enable us to live together in the world with a minimum degree of friction.

The best of us get on one another's nerves, even under ordinary conditions, and it takes infinite pains and self-control to get through a trying day in a busy office without striking sparks somewhere. If there is a secret of success, and some of the advertisements seem trying to persuade us that it is all secret, it is the ability to work efficiently and pleasantly with other people. The business man never works alone. He is caught in the clutches of civilization and there is no escape. He is like a man climbing a mountain tied to a lot of other men climbing the same mountain. What each one does affects all the others.

We do not want our people to devote themselves entirely to the art of being agreeable. If we could conceive of a world where everybody was perfectly polite and smiling all the time we should hardly like to live in it. It is human nature not to like perfection, and most of us, if brought face to face with that model of behavior, Mr. Turveydrop, who spent his life serving as a pattern of deportment, would sympathize with the delightful old lady who looked at him in the full flower of his glory and cried viciously (but under her breath) "I could bite you!"

When Pope Benedict XI sent a messenger to Giotto for a sample of his work the great artist drew a perfect circle with one sweep of his arm and gave it to the boy. Before his death Giotto executed many marvelous works of art, not one of them perfect, not even the magnificent bell tower at Florence, but all of them infinitely greater than the circle. It is better, whether one is working with bricks or souls, to build nobly than to build perfectly.



Every progressive business man will agree with the successful Western manufacturer who says that "courtesy can pay larger dividends in proportion to the effort expended than any other of the many human characteristics which might be classed as Instruments of Accomplishment." But this was not always true. In the beginning "big business" assumed an arrogant, high-handed attitude toward the public and rode rough-shod over its feelings and rights whenever possible. This was especially the case among the big monopolies and public service corporations, and much of the antagonism against the railroads to-day is the result of the methods they used when they first began to lay tracks and carry passengers. Nor was this sort of thing limited to the large concerns. Small business consisted many times of trickery executed according to David Harum's motto of "Do unto the other feller as he would like to do unto you, but do him fust." The public is a long-suffering body and the business man is a hard-headed one, but after a while the public began to realize that it was not necessary to put up with gross rudeness and the business man began to realize that a policy of pleasantness was much better than the "treat 'em rough" idea upon which he had been acting. He deserves no special credit for it. It was as simple and as obvious a thing as putting up an umbrella when it is raining.

People knew, long before this enlightened era of ours, that politeness had value. In one of the oldest books of good manners in the English language a man with "an eye to the main chance" advised his pupils to cultivate honesty, gentleness, propriety, and deportment because they paid. But it has not been until recently that business men as a whole have realized that courtesy is a practical asset to them. Business cannot be separated from money and there is no use to try. Men work that they may live. And the reason they have begun to develop and exploit courtesy is that they have discovered that it makes for better work and better living. Success, they have learned, in spite of the conspicuous wealth of several magnates who got their money by questionable means, depends upon good will and good will depends upon the square deal courteously given.

The time is within the memory of living men, and very young men at that, when the idea of putting courtesy into business dealings sprang up, but it has taken hold remarkably. When the Hudson Tubes were opened not quite a decade and a half ago Mr. McAdoo inaugurated what was at that time an almost revolutionary policy. He took the motto, "The Public be Pleased," instead of the one made famous by Mr. Vanderbilt, and posted it all about, had pamphlets distributed, and made a speech on courtesy in railroad management and elsewhere. Since that time, not altogether because of the precedent which had been established, but because people were beginning to realize that with this new element creeping into business the old regime had to die because it could not compete with it, there have been all sorts of courtesy campaigns among railroad and bus companies, and even among post office and banking employees, to mention only two of the groups notorious for haughty and arrogant behavior. The effects of a big telephone company have been so strenuous and so well planned and executed that they are reserved for discussion in another chapter.

Mr. McAdoo tells a number of charming stories which grew out of the Hudson Tubes experiment. One day during a political convention when he was standing in the lobby of a hotel in a certain city a jeweler came over to him after a slight moment of hesitation, gave him one of his cards and said, "Mr. McAdoo, I owe you a great debt of gratitude. For that," he added, pointing to "The Public be Pleased" engraved in small letters on the card just above his name. "I was in New York the day the tunnel was opened," he continued, "and I heard your speech, and said to myself that it might be a pretty good idea to try that in the jewelry trade. And would you believe it, my profits during the first year were more than fifty per cent bigger than they were the year before?" And we venture to add that the jeweler was more than twice as happy and that it was not altogether because there was more money in his coffers.

Mr. McAdoo is a man with whom courtesy is not merely a policy: it is a habit as well. He places it next to integrity of character as a qualification for a business man, and he carries it into every part of his personal activity, as the statesmen and elevator boys, waiters and financiers, politicians and stenographers with whom he has come into contact can testify. "I never have a secretary," he says, "who is not courteous, no matter what his other qualifications may be." During the past few years Mr. McAdoo has been placed in a position to be sought after by all kinds of people, and in nearly every instance he has given an interview to whoever has asked for it. "I have always felt," we quote him again, "that a public servant should be as accessible to the public as possible." Courtesy with him, as with any one else who makes it a habit, has a cumulative effect. The effect cannot always be traced as in the case of the jeweler or in the story given below in which money plays a very negligible part, but it is always there.

On one occasion--this was when he was president of the Hudson Railroad--Mr. McAdoo was on his way up to the Adirondacks when the train broke down. It was ill provided for such a catastrophe, there was no dining car, only a small buffet, and the wait was a long and trying one. When Mr. McAdoo after several hours went back to the buffet to see if he could get a cup of coffee and some rolls he found the conductor almost swamped by irate passengers who blamed him, in the way that passengers will, for something that was no more his fault than theirs. The conductor glanced up when Mr. McAdoo came in, expecting him to break into an explosion of indignation, but Mr. McAdoo said, "Well, you have troubles enough already without my adding to them."

The conductor stepped out of the group. "What did you want, sir?" he asked.

"Why, nothing, now," Mr. McAdoo responded. "I did want a cup of coffee, but never mind about it."

"Come into the smoker here," the conductor said. "Wait a minute."

The conductor disappeared and came back in a few minutes with coffee, bread, and butter. Mr. McAdoo thanked him warmly, gave him his card and told him that if he ever thought he could do anything for him to let him know. The conductor looked at the card.

"Are you the president of the Hudson Railroad?"


"Well, maybe there's something you can do for me now. There are two men out here who say they are going to report me for what happened this morning. You know how things have been, and if they do, I wish you would write to headquarters and explain. I'm in line for promotion and you know what a black mark means in a case like that."

Mr. McAdoo assured him that he would write if it became necessary. The men were bluffing, however, and the complaint was never sent in. Apparently the incident was closed.

Several years later Mr. McAdoo's son was coming down from the Adirondacks when he lost his Pullman ticket. He did not discover the fact until he got to the station, and then he had no money and no time to get any by wire before the train left. He went to the conductor, explained his dilemma, and told him that if he would allow him to ride down to the city his father, who was to meet him at the Grand Central station, would pay him for the ticket. The conductor liked the youngster--perhaps because there was something about him that reminded him of his father, for as chance would have it, the conductor was the same one who had brought Mr. McAdoo the coffee and bread in the smoking car so many months before.

"Who is your father?" he asked.

"Mr. McAdoo."

"President of the Hudson Railroad?"


"Boy, you can have the train!"

So far as monetary value of courtesy is concerned we might recount hundreds of instances where a single act of politeness brought in thousands of dollars. Only the other morning the papers carried the story of a man who thirty years ago went into a tailor's shop with a ragged tear in his trousers and begged the tailor to mend it and to trust him for the payment which amounted to fifty cents. The tailor agreed cheerfully enough and the man went his way, entered business and made a fortune. He died recently and left the tailor fifty thousand dollars. Not long before that there was a story of an old woman who came to New York to visit her nephew--it was to be a surprise--and lost her bearings so completely when she got into the station that she was about ready to turn around and go back home when a very polite young man noticed her bewilderment. He offered his services, called a taxi and deposited her in front of her nephew's door in half an hour. She took his name and address and a few days later he received a check large enough to enable him to enter the Columbia Law School. A banker is fond of telling the story of an old fellow who came into his bank one day in a suit of black so old that it had taken on a sickly greenish tinge. He fell into the hands of a polite clerk who answered all his questions--and there were a great many of them--clearly, patiently, and courteously. The old man went away but came back in a day or so with $300,000 which he placed on deposit. "I did have some doubts," he said, "but this young man settled them all." Word of it went to people in authority and the clerk was promoted.

Now it is pleasant to know that these good people were rewarded as they deserved to be. We would be very happy if we could promise a like reward to every one who is similarly kind, but it is no use. The little words of love and the little deeds of kindness go often without recompense so far as we can see, except that they happify the world, but that in itself is no small return.

Courtesy pays in dollars and cents but its value goes far beyond that. It is the chief element in building good will--we are speaking now of courtesy as an outgrowth of character--and good will is to a firm what honor is to a man. He can lose everything else but so long as he keeps his honor he has something to build with. In the same way a business can lose all its material assets and can replace them with insurance money or something else, but if it loses its good will it will find in ninety cases out of a hundred that it is gone forever and that the business itself has become so weakened that there is nothing left but to reorganize it completely and blot out the old institution altogether.

One must not make the mistake of believing that good will can be built on courtesy alone. Courtesy must be backed up by something more solid. An excellent comparison to show the relation that good manners bear to uprightness and integrity of character was drawn a number of years ago by a famous Italian prelate. We shall paraphrase the quaint English of the original translator. "Just as men do commonly fear beasts that are cruel and wild," he says, "and have no manner of fear of little ones such as gnats and flies, and yet because of the continual nuisance which they find them, complain more of these than they do of the other: so most men hate the unmannerly and untaught as much as they do the wicked, and more. There is no doubt that he who wishes to live, not in solitary and desert places, like a hermit, but in fellowship with men, and in populous cities, will find it a very necessary thing, to have skill to put himself forth comely and seemly in his fashions, gestures, and manners: the lack of which do make other virtues lame."

Granting dependability of character, courtesy is the next finest business builder an organization can have. One of the largest trust companies in the world was built up on this hypothesis. A good many years ago the man who is responsible for its growth was cashier in a "busted" bank in a small city. The situation was a desperate one, for the bank could not do anything more for its customers than it was already doing. It could not give them more interest on their money and most of its other functions were mechanical. The young cashier began to wonder why people went to one bank in preference to another and in his own mind drew a comparison between the banking and the clothing business. He always went to the haberdasher who treated him best. Other men he knew did the same thing. Would not the same principle work in a bank? Would not people come to the place which gave them the best service? He decided to try it. Not only would they give efficient service, they would give it pleasantly. It was their last card but it was a trump. It won. The bank began to prosper. People who were annoyed by rude, brusque, or indifferent treatment in other banks came to this one. The cashier was raised to a position of importance and in an incredibly short time was made president of a trust company in New York. He carried with him exactly the same principle that had worked so well in the little bank and the result in the big one was exactly the same.

In a leaflet which is in circulation among the employees at this institution there are these paragraphs: We ask you to remember: That our customers can get along without us.

(There are in Greater New York nearly one hundred banks and trust companies, every one of them actively seeking business.) We cannot get along without our customers.

A connection which, perhaps, it has taken us several months to establish, can be terminated by one careless or discourteous act.

Our customers are asked to maintain balances of certain proportions. If they wish to borrow money, they must deposit collateral. They must repay loans when they mature; or arrange for their extension.

If a bank errs, it must err on the side of safety, for the money it loans is not its own money but the money of its depositors. We (and every other bank and trust company) operate almost entirely on money which our customers have deposited with us. The least we can do, then, is to serve them courteously. They really are our employers.

Ours is a semi-public institution.

Every day, men try to interest us in matters with which we have no concern. It is our duty to tell these men, very courteously, why their proposals do not appeal to us. But they are entitled to a hearing. It may be that they are not in a position to benefit us, and never will be. But almost every man can harm us, if he tries to do so. And a pleasantly expressed declination invariably makes a better impression than a favor grudgingly granted. We ask you, then, to remember that our growth--and your opportunities--depend not only upon the friends we make, but the enemies we do not make.

Remember names and faces. Do something, say something that will bring home to those who do business with us the fact that the Blank Trust Company is a very human institution--that it wants the good will of every man and woman in the country.

That is the kind of courtesy which has builded this particular organization. It is a pleasure to visit it to-day because of the spirit of cooperation which animates it. They have done away with the elaborate spy systems in use in so many banks, although they keep the management well enough in hand to be able to fasten the blame for mistakes upon the right person. The employees work with one another and with the president, whom they adore. It is, as a matter of fact, largely the influence of the personality of the president filtering down through the ranks which has made possible the phenomenal success which the institution has enjoyed during the past few years, another proof of the fact that every institution--and Emerson was speaking of great institutions when he said it--"is the lengthened shadow of one man."

Banks have almost a peculiar problem. Money is a mighty power, and to the average person there is something very awesome about the place where it is kept. Mr. Stephen Leacock is not the only man who ever went into a bank with a funny little guilty feeling even when he had money in it. When one is in this frame of mind it takes very little on the part of the clerk to make him believe that he has been treated rudely. Bank clerks are notoriously haughty, but the fault is often as much in the person on the outside as in the one on the inside of the bars, especially when he has come in to draw out money which he knows he should not, such as his savings bank account, for instance. The other day a young man went into a savings bank to draw out all of his money for a purpose which he knew was extravagant although he had persuaded himself that it was not. Throughout the whole time he was in the bank he was treated with perfect courtesy, but in spite of it he came out growling about "the dirty look the paying teller gave him!"

It is not only in the first contact that civility is important. Eternal vigilance is the price of success as well as of liberty. Another incident from the banking business illustrates this. Several years ago a bank which had been steadily losing customers called in a publicity expert to build up trade for them. The man organized a splendid campaign and things started off with a flourish. People began to come in most gratifying numbers. But they did not stay. An investigation conducted by the publicity man disclosed the fact that they had been driven away by negligent and discourteous service. He went to the president of the bank and told him that he was wasting money building up advertising so long as his bank maintained its present attitude toward the public. The president was a man of practical sense. There was a general clearing up, those who were past reform were discharged and those who stayed were given careful training in what good breeding meant and there was no more trouble. Advertising will bring in a customer but it takes courtesy to keep him.

Business, like nearly everything else, is easier to tear down than to build up, and one of the most devastating instruments of destruction is discourtesy. A contact which has taken years to build can be broken off by one snippy letter, one pert answer, or one discourteous response over the telephone. Even collection letters, no matter how long overdue the accounts are, bring in more returns when they are written with tact and diplomacy than when these two qualities are omitted. If you insult a man who owes you money he feels that the only way he can get even is not to pay you, and in most cases, he can justify himself for not doing it.

Within the organization itself a courteous attitude on the part of the men in positions of authority toward those beneath them is of immense importance. Sap rises from the bottom, and a business has arrived at the point of stagnation when the men at the top refuse to listen to or help those around them. It is, as a rule, however, not the veteran in commercial affairs but the fledgling who causes most trouble by his bad manners. Young men, especially young men who have been fortunate in securing material advantages, too many times look upon the world as an accident placed here for their personal enjoyment. It never takes long in business to relieve their minds of this delusion, but they sometimes accomplish a tremendous amount of damage before it happens. For a pert, know-it-all manner coupled with the inefficiency which is almost inseparable from a total lack of experience is not likely to make personal contacts pleasant. Every young man worth his salt believes that he can reform the world, but every old man who has lived in it knows that it cannot be done. Somewhere half way between they meet and say, "We'll keep working at it just the same," and then business begins to pick up. But reaching the meeting ground takes tolerance and patience and infinite politeness from both sides.

"It is the grossest sort of incivility," the quotation is not exact, for we do not remember the source, "to be contemptuous of any kind of knowledge." And herein lies the difficulty between the hard-headed business man of twenty years' experience and the youngster upon whose diploma the ink has not yet dried. "Ignorance," declares a man who has spent his life in trying to draw capital and labor together and has succeeded in hundreds of factories, "is the cause of all trouble." And a lack of understanding, which is a form of ignorance, is the cause of nearly all discourtesy.

So long as there is discourtesy in the world there must be protection against it, and the best, cheapest, and easiest means of protection is courtesy itself. Boats which are in constant danger of being run into, such as the tug and ferry boats in a busy harbor, are fitted out with buffers or fenders which are as much a part of their equipment as the smokestack, and in many cases, as necessary. Ocean liners carry fenders to be thrown over the side when there is need for them, but this naturally is not as often as in more crowded waters. A single boat on a deserted sea with nothing but sea-gulls and flying fish in sight cannot damage any one besides herself. But the moment she enters a harbor she has to take into account every other vessel in it from the Aquitania to the flat-bottomed row-boat with only one man in it. It is a remarkable fact that most of the boats that are injured or sunk by collision are damaged by vessels much smaller than themselves. Most of these accidents (this statement is given on the authority of an able seaman) could have been prevented by the use of a fender thrown over the side at the proper moment. Politeness is like this. It is the finest shock absorber in the world, as essential from an economic point of view as it is pleasant from a social one. In business there is no royal isolation. We are all ferry boats. We need our shock absorbers every minute of the day.

No boat has a right to run into another, but they do it just the same, and a shock absorber is worth all the curses the captain and the crew can pronounce, however righteous their indignation toward the offending vessel. Sometimes politeness is better than justice.

Most of the causes of irritation during the course of a business day are too petty to bother about. Many of them could be ignored and a good many more could be laughed at. A sense of humor and a sense of proportion would do away with ninety per cent of all the wrangling in the world. Some one has said, and not without truth, that a highly developed sense of humor would have prevented the World War. Too many people use sledge-hammers when tack hammers would do just as well. They belong in the same company with William Jay whose immortal epitaph bears these words: Here lies the body of William Jay Who died maintaining his right of way. He was right, dead right, as he sped along, But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.

Courtesy is restful. A nervous frenzy of energy throughout the day leaves one at sunset as exhausted as a punctured balloon. The fussy little fellow who fancies himself rushed to death, who has no time to talk with anybody, who cannot be polite to his stenographer and his messenger boys because he is in such a terrible hurry, is dissipating his energy into something that does not matter and using up the vitality which should go into his work. He is very like the engine which President Lincoln was so fond of telling about which used so much steam in blowing its whistle that every time it did it it had to stop.

The Orientals manage things better than we do. "We tried hurrying two thousand years ago," a banker in Constantinople said to a tired American business man, "and found that it did not pay. So we gave it up." There is always time to be polite, and though it sounds like a contradiction, there will be more time to spare if one devotes a part of his day to courtesy.

But there is danger in too much courtesy. Every virtue becomes a vice if it is carried too far, and frank rudeness is better than servility or hypocrisy. Commercial greed, there is no other name for it, leads a firm to adopt some such idiotic motto as "the customer is always right." No organization could ever live up to such a policy, and the principle back of it is undemocratic, un-American, unsound and untrue. The customer is not always right and the employer in a big (or little) concern who places girls (department stores are the chief sinners in this) on the front line of approach with any such instructions is a menace to self-respecting business. America does not want a serving class with a "king-can-do-no-wrong" attitude toward the public. Business is service, not servility, and courtesy works both ways. There is no more sense in business proclaiming that the customer is always right than there would be in a customer declaring that business is always right, and no more truth.

No good business man will argue with a customer, or anybody else, not only because it is bad policy to do so, but because his self-respect will not allow it. He will give and require from his employees courteous treatment toward his customers, and when doubt arises he will give them (the customers) the benefit of it. And he will always remember that he is dealing with an intelligent human being. The customer has a right to expect a firm to supply him with reliable commodities and to do it pleasantly, but he has no right to expect it to prostrate itself at his feet in order to retain his trade, however large that trade may be.

Too little has been said about courtesy on the part of the customer and the public--that great headless mass of unrelated particles. Business is service, we say, and the master is the public, the hardest one in the world to serve. Each one of us speaks with more or less pitying contempt of the public, forgetting that we ourselves are the public and that the sum total of the good breeding, intelligence, and character of the public can be no greater than that of the individuals who make it up.

"Sid," of the American Magazine, says that he once asked the manager of a circus which group of his employees he had most trouble keeping. Quite unexpectedly the man replied, "The attendants. They get 'sucker-sore' and after that they are no good." This is how it happens. The wild man from Borneo is placed in a cage with a placard attached bearing in big letters the legend "The Wild Man from Borneo." An old farmer comes to the circus, looks at the wild man from Borneo in his cage, reads the placard, looks at the attendant, "Is this the wild man from Borneo?" he asks. No human being can stand an unlimited amount of this sort of thing, and the attendant, after he has explained some hundred thousand or so times that this really is the wild man from Borneo begins to lose his zest for it and to answer snappishly and sarcastically. An infinite supply of courtesy would, of course, be a priceless asset to him, but does not this work both ways? What right have people to bother other people with perfectly foolish and imbecile questions? Is there any one who cannot sympathize with a "sucker-sore" attendant? And with the people who are stationed about for the purpose of answering questions almost anywhere? There are not many of us who at one time and another have not had the feeling that we were on the wrong train even after we had asked the man who sold us the ticket, the man who punched it at the gate, the guard who was standing near the entrance, and the guard who was standing near the train, the porter, the conductor, and the news-butcher if it was the right one and have had an affirmative answer from every one of them. How many times can a man be expected to answer such a question with a smile? For those who are exposed to "suckers" the best advice is to be as gentle with them as possible, to grit your teeth and hold your temper even when the ninety-thousandth man comes through to ask if this is the right train. For the "suckers" themselves there are only two words of advice. They include all the rest: Stop it.

It is impossible to tell what the value of courtesy is. Perhaps some day the people who have learned to measure our minds will be able to tell us just what a smile is worth. Maybe they can tell us also what Spring is worth, and what happiness is worth. Meanwhile we do not know. We only know that they are infinitely precious.



We talk a great deal about gentlemen and about democracy and a good many other words which describe noble conceptions without a very clear idea of what they mean. The biggest mistake we make is in thinking of them as something stationary like a monument carved in granite or a stone set upon a hill, when the truth is that they are living ideas subject to the change and growth of all living things. No man has ever yet become a perfect gentleman because as his mind has developed his conception of what a gentleman is has enlarged, just as no country has ever become a perfect democracy because each new idea of freedom has led to broader ideas of freedom. It is very much like walking through a tunnel. At first there is only darkness, and then a tiny pin point of light ahead which grows wider and wider as one advances toward it until, finally, he stands out in the open with the world before him. There is no end to life, and none to human development, at least none that can be conceived of by the finite mind of man.

There are hundreds of definitions of a gentleman, none of them altogether satisfactory. Cardinal Newman says it is almost enough to say that he is one who never gives pain. "They be the men," runs an old chronicle, "whom their race and bloud, or at the least, their virtues, do make noble and knowne." Barrow declares that they are the men lifted above the vulgar crowd by two qualities: courage and courtesy. The Century Dictionary, which is as good an authority as any, says, "A gentleman is a man of good breeding, courtesy, and kindness; hence, a man distinguished for fine sense of honor, strict regard for his obligations, and consideration for the rights and feelings of others." And this is a good enough working standard for anybody. The Dictionary is careful to make--and this is important--a gentleman not one who conforms to an outward and conventional standard, but one who follows an inward and personal ideal.

Of late days there has been a great deal of attention paid to making gentlemen of business men and putting courtesy into all the ramifications of business. Without doubt the chief reason for it is the fact that business men themselves have discovered that it pays. One restaurant frankly adopted the motto, "Courtesy Pays," and had it all fixed up with gilt letters and framed and hung it near the front door, and a number of other places have exactly the same policy for exactly the same reason though they do not all proclaim the fact so boldly. It is not the loftiest motive in the world but it is an intelligent one, and it is better for a man to be polite because he hopes to win success that way than for him not to be polite at all.

Human conduct, even at its best, is not always inspired by the highest possible motives. Not even the religions which men have followed have been able to accomplish this. Most of them have held out the hope of heavenly reward in payment for goodness here on earth and countless millions of men (and women, too, for that matter) have kept in the straight and narrow path because they were afraid to step out of it. It may be that they were, intrinsically, no better men than the ones who trod the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire, but they were much easier to live with. And the man who is courteous, who is a gentleman, whatever his motives, is a more agreeable citizen than the one who is not.

Now how--this is our problem--does one go about making a gentleman? Environment plays, comparatively speaking, a very small part. "The appellation of gentleman," this is from a gentleman of the Seventeenth Century, "is not to be affixed to a man's circumstances, but to his behavior in them." It is extremely doubtful if courtesy can be taught by rule. It is more a matter of atmosphere, and an instinct "for the better side of things and the cleaner surfaces of life." And yet, heredity, training, and environment all enter into the process.

Chapter end

Courier New
Comic Sans MS
Oh o, this user has not set a donation button.
lingua italiana
Русский язык
Novel Cool
Read thousands of novels online
Success Warn New Timeout NO YES Summary More details Please rate this book Please write down your comment Reply Follow Followed This is the last chapter. Are you sure to delete? Account We've sent email to you successfully. You can check your email and reset password. You've reset your password successfully. We're going to the login page. Read Your cover's min size should be 160*160px Your cover's type should be .jpg/.jpeg/.png This book hasn't have any chapter yet. This is the first chapter This is the last chapter We're going to home page. * Book name can't be empty. * Book name has existed. At least one picture Book cover is required Please enter chapter name Create Successfully Modify successfully Fail to modify Fail Error Code Edit Delete Just Are you sure to delete? This volume still has chapters Create Chapter Fold Delete successfully Please enter the chapter name~ Then click 'choose pictures' button Are you sure to cancel publishing it? Picture can't be smaller than 300*300 Failed Name can't be empty Email's format is wrong Password can't be empty Must be 6 to 14 characters