At times, I feel despondent about the overabundance of boorish, uncouth, loutish speech and behavior in our nation and the world. The advocacy of self-centeredness and uncivility by many cultural leaders sometimes makes me want to throw my hands up in submission. Then, maybe in traffic, some kind soul stops his car and gestures for me to enter the street in front of him. That’s all it takes to lighten my mood and brighten my day a bit.
I mentioned to my friend Jorge, a few days ago, that May is International Civility Awareness Month. He noted that this fact is rarely announced in the news media, nor is it practiced by very many of our leaders. I then said that we need to advocate civility during the next several months during the always dreadful political campaign season. The level of uncouth, uncivilized speech making and rabble rousing reaches a peak and remains in force. Scapegoating becomes the national sport and disrespect is its rule book.
Jorge wondered aloud what might happen if ISIS and other religionists could ever adopt civility as their codes of behavior.
Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, is one of my favorite writers and celebrities. She once said, “You do not have to do everything disagreeable that you have a right to do.” In effect she said, in dealings with other people, restraint is admirable.
Of course, Miss Manners means that civility is more than just being polite, even though that is the required first step. Civility encompasses disagreement without disrespect nor the threat of withdrawing basic human dignity. Civility is about respecting other people and their basic human rights. It’s the beginning of the search for common ground in dialogue about differences while putting one’s preconceptions on hold.
Civility is the presence of mind when we deal with people with whom we have fierce, deep-rooted disagreement. Civility is absolutely essential in a democratic republic because it is the necessary ingredient for civic activity. Civility is about the negotiation process. It includes the necessity of allowing everyone’s voice to be heard and nobody’s to be ignored.
Even though civility is at the root of most of our laws, civility cannot be legislated. Civility can only be taught, advocated for, and practiced freely. Official statutes are only the bare-bones minimum level of civility. A better person goes far beyond the basic call of official standards.
Civility can be expressed through these talking points:
1. A conscious awareness of the impact of one’s own thoughts, intentions, words, and actions.
2. A continual acknowledgement of responsibility to exercise courtesy, respect, non-judgement, kindness, and restraint in one’s dealings.
3. The positive habit of displaying civil, ethical behavior as a non-negotiable aspect of one’s personal character.
A person need not restrict the scope of civility to particular realms of personal interaction. Civility is rooted in basic modes of personal behavior. A simple smile and eye contact with people is a good start. The habit of saying “please”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, and “excuse me” shows that you respect the other person. So does the practice of other basic forms of ettiquette.
It is the practice of civility and respect towards one’s most fervent adversary that personal integrity and strength are convincingly made evident to others. The most gracious woman and the biggest man are manifested through their civility.
At the heart of civility, are the honest intention and practice of treating every person with kindness and respect.