Mr. Garvin’s Courteous Wisdom

By Hakim Abdul-Ali

Please forgive me as I attempt to expound on a somewhat disappearing “hue-man” trait in interpersonal communication that I find sorely missing today. That trait is one of simply being courteous.

As I travel and move about in my day-to-day activities, I come in contact with and meet, for the most, some very diversely polite and spiritual minded ethnic folk, who are as nice as can be. Sadly, too, I’ll have to testify that I also come across some very crass, mean spirited and rude folk.

Due to those incidents with those ever-so-discourteous souls, I’m reflectively driven to discuss that rare quality called courtesy. I’m doing this because it needs to be brought into the light of plain old common sense comprehension for the betterment of us all in order to become more tolerant and respectful of one another.

In many circles in the contentious arenas some of of us we presently live in are filled with a lot of uncommunicative, uptight and hostile folk, many of whom are inwardly mad and bitter for reasons unknown to themselves. I believe this can and does lead to the daily shockingly horrid and bizarre happenings which seemingly permeates today’s global societies without end.

I don’t care who you are, or what you say you believe in, we’re all literally tested every second of everyday to put forth our best positive exertions in encountering the endeavors of life. In doing this, we must do so whenever we come in contact with other varied ethnic folk, and we’re challenged, again, to exhibit our best reverent manners going forward in reacting to those encounters. Life is a test unlike no other.

In addressing the topic for today concerning being courteous, it may appear to be a lost art form of showing genuine, mutual respect for one another in “hue-manity.” I’d have to utter an impartial no to that assumption because we need more and more of that “lost art form” in today’s polarized and political society wher e mutual civility and respect oftentimes takes a back seat, if you will, to common spiritual decencies.

I don’t believe that being courteous has to necessarily always be shown in business dealings alone, but it should also be exemplified in all of our intercommunications, including  personal, familial and general interactions and situations with those who we may meet for the first time. Rest assured that it never hurts to sincerely be courteous and nice to anyone.

Listen closely. I went to undergraduate school at the great HBCU institution called Howard University in Washington, D.C., during the ‘60s, and I fondly remember some things an older man said to me many times that have stuck with me until today. Whenever I  would occasionally see this man named Mr. Garvin, I recall that he always emphasized that “being courteous and trustworthy is what will make a man or woman seeking success rise or fall.”

This gentleman was not a professor or an instructor at Howard or at any of the marvelous institutions in the District of Columbia greater metropolitan area. He was an just an “ordinary” elderly, wise Afro-American gentleman, who would engage in friendly chit-chat with me in the park near my university’s campus from time-to-time.

I was always courteous and respectful towards this very frail but ever-so-kind and humble senior citizen, because I was raised by my mother and father to do so. This well informed elderly brother, calling D.C. his adopted home, told me he was born during very racist times on a farm in North Carolina in 1919, would tell me how he noticed how polite, courteous and respectful I was to him and others.

He mentioned to me that my parents definitely raised me right because, in his own words, “Young man, never be ashamed to be polite and always, always take the time to be courteous to one and all.” Mr. Garvin was a breath of fresh air to my then young spirits always stimulating me to listen to and learn more from him.

I’d like to add a little personal side note to and about my relationship with Mr. Garvin in that my father died when I was a freshman at Howard, and I was contemplating quitting school because I was at a very, very low ebb in my life. I was confused and uncertain of many things, and later on after my dad had passed, Mr. Garvin approached me and politely asked me what was wrong, which I explained to him to the best of my abilities.

He sympathetically told me he was sorry to hear about father’s death, but he said for me to know that the good Lord never makes a mistake, and I must always hold my head up. “Don’t rush into making hasty actions about your life. Your mother and father, together, raised you with manners, and courtesy is one of those manners they instilled in you,” is what he said to me.

Mr. Garvin probably sensed how deeply I was lost, troubled and feeling terribly alone at eighteen years old, especially being by myself in D.C. He told me to keep my head up and don’t quit going to Howard since my mother and father made so much sacrifice for me to attend that prestigious school of higher learning in the first place.

I took his advice and stayed at Howard, graduating in 1968. To my chagrin, Mr. Garvin wasn’t around to see me graduate because I was told that he left D.C. and had died in 1967, or sometime thereabouts.

Many times lessons come to our understandings from the easiest of ways, and others arrive and are learned from the unquestioned hard knocks of life. Mr. Garvin taught me the values of hanging in there when times get a little testy, as they sometimes do, and to always be courteous to one and all — and I’m passing that advice along to you now from one of my teachers in life, someone who you never knew.

That’s what was and is driving me to write this piece today. You see, Mr. Garvin, who apparently never had it easy in his life, related to me that being courteous and kind to others are assets worth more than politics, money, influence or gold, etc. in this life.

It’s been more than fifty-two years since I last saw and spoke to Mr. Garvin in that quaint District of Columbia park, but his kind words of encouragements and about being courteous have stuck with me for more than half a century. He told me on our last visit in 1967, as best that I can remember, to, again, “take the time to be aware of who your real friends are in life and to recognize your enemies, but still manifest the time to be courteous to one and all.”

Mr. Garvin’s sincerity and advice given to me back then are permanent fixtures in my mind, heart and soul. I’m trusting that if you understand what I’m reflecting on today in this article, hopefully, you’ll know that all that I’m saying is that being courteous elevates your mutual respect game because it takes you spiritually higher in all of your interactions with all types of  folk.

Possessing this quality of being aware of practicing “the importance of being” courteous leads to greater things for you and the others who you immediately come in contact with. Being respectful and courteous never hurts, especially, in today’s chaotic times.

The insightful, unknown Afro-American griot, except to me, named Mr. Garvin said, as a child, he was told to be mindfully positive and politely gallantly courteous by his prudent kinfolk in North Carolina, even during all of the bigoted, dismal times he faced, because it was a sign of him surviving the tests from the Lord on High, as he described the Creator Alone. Me. Garvin sternly advised me to always, always to do the same and to put a smile on my face when trials arise and to embrace being courteous to everyone, an exercise I’ve been earnestly trying to do ever since the first time he told me to practice these traits.

In conclusion, and with respect to the wisdom of Mr. Garvin’s universal teachings, I’m politely asking you to think about what he said. I’m also asking you  to “Please take the time out to be courteous when dealing with yourself and others, no matter who they are.” For today and always, that’s, “As I See It.”


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