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The Importance of Civility

When is the last time you thought about how much civility there seems to be in the world these days? If you’re like me, my mind goes to some of the recent news stories and even the debate between the former and the current president.

So what is civility anyway? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, civility is defined as civilized conduct, especially courtesy or politeness.

I found the work of M. Scott Peck, MD, to be very clarifying about life and some of the perspectives he encourages his readers to adopt. In his book A World Waiting to Be Born: Civility Rediscovered, he says the following: “Politeness and good manners are designed to avoid hurting people’s feelings. But I began to arrive at a better definition of civility when I ran across an amusing yet profound quote from Oliver Herford, who once said, ‘A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.’ In other words, civility might have much more to do with the conscious intention—awareness— then with not hurting feelings. In fact, on occasion, it might actually be civil to hurt someone’s feelings as long as you know what you’re doing.”

He goes on to say, “’…civility certainly has to do with how we humans relate to each other. Whenever there is a relationship between two or more people, an organization of some sort is involved. Genuine civility is then, in part, consciously motivated organizational behavior.… We are organizational creatures. We are born not only into a society and culture but usually into a specific, complex organization.”

In the book he states that, “Civility is something more than organizational behavior that is merely ‘consciously motivated.’ It must be ethical as well.” He talks about some of the horrifying behaviors that he calls “outrageous incivility.” He says that our everyday incivility is responsible for a vast amount of human misery.

Civility then involves more than superficial politeness and good manners that often are the descriptions people use. It goes much deeper than that, all the way to the ethics involved in relationships and how people communicate with each other.

I think about the impact of the behaviors of our leaders or the ways some of us treat others because incivility has been an insidious process that has seeped into some of our interactions. It is as if we have somehow been given permission to be uncivil, to be disrespectful and contemptuous, to practice name-calling and lying. 

When I think of some of the young people today, they may feel like they have the right to become violent if they are not happy, in other words, uncivil.  

When we live in a world that lacks civility, we can feel like at any moment we could be attacked and therefore we experience a pervasive lack of relational safety. As a lack of civility creeps into our worlds, the impact can be extremely destructive to our emotional well-being. It can contribute to a sense of loneliness and disconnect from others.

What can we do about all this? Through our voting power, we can consider how civil anyone we are endorsing is and how their civility might be impacting the culture of our world. (Of course we need them to be representative of our values.)

In my next blog, I’ll invite you to explore further aspects of civility including more specific suggestions we can embrace, so we are empowered to do our part in bringing greater civility to our country, our communities, our families and even how we talk to ourselves in our inner worlds.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. What have you noticed with regard to civility in this country, in our communities and even in our families?
  2. To what extent do you believe yourself to be a civil person when communicating with others?
  3. Have you had experiences with others who are disrespectful and therefore uncivil towards you? How did that make you feel? How did you respond?

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