Because I have been listening to people for so long, I have always paid attention to the expressions that they use. One that has all but disappeared, regrettably, is, “Would you mind if….”

This is not to be confused with, “Do you mind,” a statement usually said with displeasure or irritation. Here is how all that works.

You get on a plane or bus or train and spot an empty seat. Most of the time, you hear, “Is anyone sitting here” or “Is this seat taken?” Think about how different those are from, “Would you mind if I take this seat?” Asking if someone minds is worlds away from most of the alternatives.

I am determined to maintain as many of these niceties as I can. On a daily basis, a student asks, “Can I go to the bathroom,” to which I always answer, “Yes, I am sure you can. Are you asking permission?” The kids generally get it and will follow up with, “May I?”

If you’re asking yourself why I bother, my answer is that it matters to at least one of me. When we stop observing courtesies and manners, we may as well live in caves and get our food by clubbing animals to death. Before you accuse me of over-reacting, imagine this:

You go to a retail establishment and purchase something large or small. The cashier jams your purchase into a bag and grunts. You’ll get no thanks, no eye contact, no smile. As you prepare to leave, the cashier sees the person waiting behind you and barks, “Next!”

While I’m not suggesting that this happens or could happen in the near future, I believe that we all have chances to brighten the lives of others. Without many of us working on preserving courtesy and kindness to others, we may discover that such conventions become more and more difficult to locate.

And so, I’ll continue to ask, “Would you mind if…,” I return your shopping cart, help you with that, or ask you to check out ahead of me. It’s what I think is right. Shalom.

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