Courtesy: The Art of Kindness
By Mathiam Mbow, owner / instructor at Silver Lining Taekwon-Do
A few months ago, a good friend of mine who lives in The Gambia posted a picture on
Facebook of himself and his students having dinner at his house. My friend is a fellow
instructor of Taekwon-Do, and he loves the kids he trains. Not only does he train most of
them for free, but he also feeds them. Living in Banjul, the capital city of this tiny West
African nation, he knows how difficult life is for most of these kids. He is not a man of
much means, but with the little he has, he tries to make a difference. His main
motivation is to provide for them, and to keep them out of the streets and in the
I was moved by his generosity, and so I reached out to him and sent him some money
to help with his expenses. I sent enough in his local currency to cover his expenses for
at least a month.
The very next day, being the man that he is, my friend distributed the money to the kids’
families. “They need it more than I do,” he told me.
What a generous heart! This type of kindness puts other people’s needs before your
very own. This type of kindness can heal our hearts and bring out the best of humanity.
The big question is, are we courageous enough to express it daily?
In Taekwon-Do, we would say that my friend practices the Tenet of Courtesy. This is a
character trait that all people should have in order to maintain a fair, kind and just
Back in March, you may remember, I introduced the Five Tenets of Taekwon-Do—
Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control and Indomitable Spirit. Each of these
helps develop the inner strength to become a good person who contributes positively to
humanity. In that article, we covered Indomitable Spirit (resilience, or the ability to adapt
to difficult situations).
This time, I’d like to talk about the first Tenet: Courtesy.
Courtesy is much more than simple pleasantries of thank you and please or hello and
good-bye. Courtesy at its core is the first rule of life to maintain a decent and civilized
society. It is the principle that compels humans to be compassionate and kind to all
living things. It is for this reason that courtesy is the first of the Five Tenets of Taekwon-Do.
Writing in the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do
, General Choi Hong Hi, the father of the
discipline, described courtesy as “an unwritten regulation prescribed by ancient teaching
of philosophy as a means to enlighten human beings while maintaining a harmonious
society” and even “an ultimate criterion required of a mortal.”
Taekwon-Do’s nine elements of courtesy include promoting the spirit of mutual
concessions, encouraging the sense of justice and humanity, and handling matters with
fairness and sincerity. Politeness and etiquette (behaving the way you’ve been taught
and know is right) are elements of courtesy, too.
When we put the well-being of our neighbors before our own desires to get ahead, we
are living this value. When we care about the safety and conditions of our neighbors
more than we care about our own comforts in life, we are living this value. When we feel
the pain and sufferings of our neighbors as our own, we are living this value.
There are so many different ways we can express and demonstrate this incredible
tenet. With the state of the world today and everybody being on edge, is it fair to say
that we all could greatly benefit from a dose of kindness, compassion and
History shows that people always come together in solidarity after a disaster strikes, but
we don’t have to wait for an unfortunate event to take place before we take kind action
to console a grieving soul. Doing so proves that kindness is in the hearts of all
We have been conditioned to believe that it’s us against the rest of the world. But life
isn’t a race to the top. When we lock arms and move in one beat as one race, one
people with one purpose, we can make life beautiful, fair and easy for all.
Every day of my life I remind myself and my students that success at the detriment of
others isn’t success at all. When we all do well, we all succeed. Being kind to one
another is a good start.