Living on a planet with approximately 8 billion other people is interesting. We are unique individuals, but we are also part of a collective humanity, and the push and pull between the “me” and the “we” is something that has fascinated sociologists and philosophers for centuries.
The concept of courtesy bridges the gap between “me” and “we,” as it encourages seeing the needs and circumstances of other people and treating them with respect. In our highly individualistic society, however, that bridge must be built purposefully, with children being taught courtesy purposefully.
That’s one reason videos of young children role-playing as adults riding on a bus in early elementary classrooms are going viral.
Two videos have been circulating on social media this week showing kids in two rows of chairs set up as bus seats. A “driver” sits up front and as various passengers come aboard, the kids who are seated practice giving up their seat for those who appear to need it more than they do.
For instance, one kid role-plays boarding the bus as an old person with a cane, another as a person carrying a baby and another as someone pregnant. Not only do the kids who are already sitting practice offering up their seat, but they even practice providing physical assistance to help the person sit down.
(Note: The first video implies that it takes place in Japan, but it does not appear to be Japan. The original source of the video is unclear.)
u201cThis is a u2018courtesy lessonu2019 taught to elementary school children in Japan.u201d
— Awanish Sharan (@Awanish Sharan)
The way they pretend to hold onto the invisible straps is adorable. You can see that they’re being trained in specific steps and walked through them to create the habit of seeing who is entering the bus and providing a seat for those who may need one.
u201cHow our creative teachers are teaching ‘Civic Values’ in rural schools.nnHere’s a beautiful clip where students enacted scene offering seats to fellow needy passengers in an invisible bus..nnGuaranteed to bring tears to your eyes.u201d
— Manuj Jindal (@Manuj Jindal)
Research shows that human beings are hardwired for both selfishness and for cooperation, but cultural norms can push us toward more individualist or collectivist behaviors. Generally speaking, European, North American and Australian cultures tend to emphasize the rights of the individual (individualism) while Asian, African and South American cultures tend to focus on the needs of the people in general (collectivism).
Much like the Japanese concept of “atarimae” that prompts Japanese soccer fans to clean up the stadium after a match, the idea that one would give up a seat for an elderly, pregnant or infirm person is just ingrained in some cultures. But that doesn’t mean it happens naturally. Making courtesy lessons a part of early elementary school curriculum, as we see in these videos, creates those habits of seeing a need and being willing to sacrifice for a fellow person from an early age.
What if all schools taught these habits to all kids? What influence would such lessons have on society? It’s not just about manners on public transit—it’s about being aware of the needs of the people around you and looking for ways to be helpful. It’s about recognizing that equity means some people have a need for some things more than others, even something as simple as a seat on a bus.
It’s great to see lessons in courtesy being taught so directly and thoroughly to young kids. This kind of role-play makes showing others respect and consideration not just a vague concept but specific behaviors and habits that should simply be a matter of course. If all 8 million of us learned these kinds of habits growing up, imagine what a different world we might live in.