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A Millennial guy’s guide to holding the door open

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It's not always appreciated, but in the name of humanity I persevere.

I take a small measure of pride in holding the door for other people before I go through myself. If you’re entering a store behind me you can expect the door to be held open for you, regardless of your gender, race, or creed. In my opinion, if you’re an able-bodied man or woman at the front of a line, you’re the designated door-holder.

Unfortunately the practice seems to be falling out of fashion, especially with my (Millennial) generation. Maybe it’s because we are selfish and lazy, as some older folks love to tell us, or maybe it’s because most parents aren’t modeling like mine did, sure, but maybe it’s also because I’m not alone in having some bad experiences.

A few months ago I was heading into a convenience store when I realized there were several people behind me. Rather than entering first, I stepped to the side and held the door open for them. The first two people walked right in, but the last was a young woman who refused to enter the store while I held the door open.

I stood there awkwardly for a moment unsure what to do before she yelled at me, in less than flowery language, to “just go in!” The desire to explain how courtesy works was strong, but I held my tongue and went in. Still, I gave the door one of those one-handed prods so it wouldn’t close on her.

The woman waited until it did fully and completely close before she opened it herself. I’m not certain what her reasoning was, but it seemed like an awful lot of social tension and effort expended, just for her to prove that she could, in fact, open the door herself. I knew that she could do it, of course, but we door-holders have this idea that holding the door for another person is a simple sign of respect for the dignity of the other, and not an unspoken commentary on their ability.

I’ve had a few similar experiences and, while they have not deterred me from holding the door, I could see how they could make someone wary about doing so. The simple fact is that when someone is holding the door for you, the only thing you should say is “thank you.” And please do say that, because a lot of people don’t.

Thanking someone for holding the door open is just as much a basic social courtesy as the act of holding the door itself. It’s like a small call-and-response, which may explain why people aren’t holding the door anymore. If you were playing Marco-Polo in a pool and no one was answering “Polo,” how long would you keep wandering around with your eyes closed?

There is no better way to let a perfect stranger know that you acknowledge their humanity than by holding the door open for them. Likewise, there is no better way to acknowledge the humanity of someone who is being polite than to thank them. These are the social equivalents of saying, “It is good that you exist,” as recommended by Pope Benedict XVI, in his Principles of Catholic Theology. The gesture says, “I see you,” and it reminds us that we are all inhabiting this planet, and our communities, together.

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