Civility

“When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.”
– Samuel Johnson

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(photograph: Callaway Gardens Butterfly House/ Pine Mt., GA/ Julie Cook/ 2013)

As a teacher, as well as a parent…not to mention just being a human being, the idea of civility—that of a civil society, is something that has always been very important to me. I use to stress, to my students, the importance of rules, along with the accompanying of certain positive actions—not a laundry list mind you of endless does and don’ts, but rather a basic list—-a list of simple classroom rules along with the consequences of not following those rules, that would keep our world, in Room 202, afloat.

A list of rules that we could all live by—happily, comfortably, agreeably… with everyone’s safety in clear sight. I would tell them that some rules are most necessary for a “civil” society—otherwise we’d succumb to the pure pandemonium known as anarchy—which I know appeals to that daring sense of the teenage mind of damning the adult’s status quo, but for those of us who have hindsight, such is indeed invaluable to life.

I am becoming ever more wearisome with what I observe being the lack of civility in our modern day society–so much so that I grow gravely distressed. Oh you can call me old fashioned if you wish—at 53 I hate thinking I’m categorized into the group of having one foot in the proverbial “home” or worse, grave, but I suppose some reading this may just check me off as simply being of a different time.

Is it being from a different time that causes me to not appreciate hearing the “F word” at each and every turn when at the mall, crossing a street, in a restaurant, watching a ball game and reading a player’s or coach’s lips or walking down the hall at school…only to have the list go on and on? When did such a word, which is, in its origin, considered vulgar slang, become common place? That we now, as a society, condone vulgar slang as “ok”? That our music, movies—our overall entertainment, is saturated with such—that which was once used for “effect” has become all but common place……is that a good agreeable thing to be accepted?

That our politicians work harder at the practice of digging “dirt”, more so than the practice of governing and managing the Law –is even more than alarming. That we are more concerned with condemnation before we even consider common ground let alone reconciliation. That our news media relishes in the lashing out at any American whom they deem “on the wrong” side.

Having grown up as an American, the only wrong side I ever thought to be at issue was if one was anti-democracy! I grew up thinking it was ok to be an American who disagreed as you were still an American—now, however sadly, if the news media finds you in disagreement with their line of thinking, you are considered an enemy of the State–depending on the news station’s affiliation with two simple words–liberal or conservative….hummmmm, I don’t like where that all seems to be headed.

I liked life when we were kinder to one another, when we were considerate to one another. We held doors open for one another, we said yes mam or yes sir even if we were grown ourselves, we weren’t too busy or too self-consumed that we didn’t notice the young mother trying to get out of the busy grocery store pushing a full cart and keeping two young children from running out ahead of her into a busy parking-lot not hesitating to offer a hand. I liked it when television was not laced with profanity, when people thought about what they wore out in public and left the pajamas at home.

The Italian academic Pier Massimo Forni, a professor at John Hopkins University and the founder of the Civility Initiative has a tremendous insight when discussing the importance of a civil society….
“Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health.”

This thought coming after, this past week, the world witnessed a gross lack of civility in the Italian Parliament where Italy’s first black MP took to the floor and fellow MPs greeted her by throwing bananas. It’s one thing to argue in disagreement, it’s another entirely to dehumanize a fellow human being. It is this dehumanizing our of fellow man/ woman that is now becoming the norm…spiraling out of control as the social filter of civility has gone out the window.

Decorum, civility, manners, morality…however you wish to name it, is woefully lacking in our lives—and we as a people, a “civilized” group of people, are the less for it. We become “less than” in a very negative way, we sadly value ourselves less and less. I merely hold firm to these words uttered by the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead….“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

Let us hope for a thoughtful group of “citizens” who may be out there somewhere who can remind us all of the importance of our kindness, our thoughtfulness, our playing fair and playing by the rules, by knowing the difference between right and wrong, by demonstrating respect for all, reminding us that it’s ok to disagree, that it’s still important to possess respect for things and people older and wiser than ourselves, to smile more and fuss less…..that we may recall the greatest commandment….to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).

Remember you are a civil individual.

One comment on “Civility

  1. Val says:

    I spun that Margaret Mead quotation on its head in my Holocaust paper (you can find it on St. V the E, May 2010). I agree, and with respect to the political stuff, philosophical rhetoric as a framework no longer works either. You can “legally” prove via rhetorical argument that they don’t have a position, but they still keep at it. All of it’s madness.

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