25 July 2012

Being Polite

Arthur Schopenhauer, Selected Essays, trans. T. Bailey Saunders (New York: A. L. Burt, 1892), pp. 163-4.
It is a wise thing to be polite; consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude. To make enemies by unnecessary and willful incivility, is just as insane a proceeding as to set your house on fire. For politeness is like a counter -- an avowedly false coin, with which it is foolish to be stingy. A sensible man will be generous in the use of it. It is customary in every country to end a letter with the words: -- "your most obedient servant" -- votre très-humble serviteur -- suo devotissimo servo . (The Germans are the only people who suppress the word servant -- diener -- because, of course, it is not true!) However, to carry politeness to such an extent as to damage your prospects, is like giving money where only counters are expected. 
Wax, a substance naturally hard and brittle, can be made soft by the application of a little warmth, so that it will take any shape you please. In the same way, by being polite and friendly, you can make people pliable and obliging, even though they are apt to be crabbed and malevolent. Hence politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax. 
Of course, it is no easy matter to be polite; in so far, I mean, as it requires us to show great respect for everybody, whereas most people deserve none at all; and again in so far as it demands that we should feign the most lively interest in people, when we must be very glad that we have nothing to do with them. To combine politeness with pride is a masterpiece of wisdom.
The German source is Section 36 of the Paränesen und Maximen at the end of the first volume of Parerga und Paralipomena (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1877), p. 492.