“Oh, if only Congress could pass a law that encourages civility in our country!” That’s what my young friend Jonathan exclaimed when I reminded him that May is National Civility Awareness Month. I couldn’t help but reply that one of the most uncivil bunch of people in the nation wouldn’t dream of passing a law, no less a congressional resolution governing such behavior.
Jonathan smartly countered my argument, saying that Congress and the President routinely tell us to behave in ways they would never consider doing themselves. I had to agree with my friend on that point. There is a whole lot of “do as I say, not as I do” in the current regime. As a matter of fact, it seems like civility is becoming an endangered concept in America and much of the world.
It’s not that civility is just bric a brac, elaborate mannerisms. Civility is the mortar that holds civilization together. Civility is a vital ingredient of a healthy democratic republic. Today’s severe loss of civil behavior is terrifying to anyone who has been paying close attention to the mood of rank and file Americans lately. What is terrifying to people like me is how the rules of society and civility are being obliterated. If one studies the history of great empires, we often see that they fall when civility is undervalued. When civility becomes scarce, it is almost impossible for it to return to health.
“Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business. Large stores, gilt signs, flaming advertisements, will all prove unavailing if you or your employees treat your patrons abruptly. The truth is, the more kind and liberal a man is, the more generous will be the patronage bestowed upon him.”–P. T. Barnum
Civility is simple to define, so it should be a simple matter of noticing when it is lacking in a society. Civility is the recognition of respect and consequent respectful behavior towards all people, period. When people understand that everyone has dignity inherent to being human regardless of religion, ability, race, sexual orientation, gender, and age. Apparently, civility is simple to understand yet is not easy to implement these days.
It comes down to something I harp about quite often–mindfulness. If a person is fully mindful about others, it becomes obvious that others deserve the same degree of respect, empathy, and dignity that one has for oneself. Think about it. Mindfulness is the practice that never stops yielding wonderful results.
“We are losing sight of civility in government and politics. Debate and dialogue is taking a back seat to the politics of destruction and anger and control. Dogma has replaced thoughtful discussion between people of differing views.”–former New Jersey Governor, James McGreevey
This is not to say that civility cancels out critical analysis nor disagreement. Civility is the calm, reasonable manner in which we share our political, religious, and other personal opinions. If we disrespect those with whom we disagree, we are being uncivil. Mindfulness about behavior is about noticing when a discussion is beginning to run out of control with screaming, yelling, interruption, patronizing, disrespect, and threats. Such behavior should be noticed as alarm bells. That is when the wisest thing to do is to agree to disagree.
It would be great if we citizens could seek out intelligent, wise leaders who work to find common ground among Americans instead of using the politics of divisiveness to further themselves for political and financial gain. America is in desperate need of people who embrace civility, along with constructive ideas, thoughtfulness, and kindness to others regardless of political and religious opinions.
Before it’s too late, I hope the nation will have a serious dialogue about the importance of civility. We seem to be at a critical, dangerous place that our strong differences could cause irreparable harm to the country and our way of life. This must take place across the religious and political divides. Now is the time to begin the process.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor Steven Weber. “I know it’s sappy, but I bet there’s a market for civility and niceness out there that, while probably not as titillating as a junkyard scrap between shirtless adversaries, it’d sure be healthier.”