Whatever Happened to Civility?

Whatever Happened to Civility? by Susan Ingram

{3:06 minutes to read}

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Civility, especially with everything that’s been going on in the U.S. political arena and the stark difference between the two presidential candidates. I suspect that young people today may not even recognize the word or know what being “civil” actually means. It has fallen out of use in today’s world.

Call me old-fashioned or whatever, but I’ve always believed in the necessity for a basic code of conduct that should govern how we relate to others one-on-one, in our communities, and even globally. That code would foster positive and constructive relationships between peoples and not divide them into self-centered interest groups.

A few days ago, I pulled out a copy of a book that I read over 10 years ago. The book is entitled, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct. It was written by Professor P. M. Forni, a cofounder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project (subsequently renamed the Johns Hopkins Civility Initiative). I was curious to peruse it again to see if it could give me some fresh insights into this subject.

Forni’s book was published in 2002. He was lamenting the excessive use of electronic devices at the turn of the century, and in the early 2000s, that was contributing to a lack of connection between people. Clearly, it’s only gotten worse since that time! Not surprisingly, I found that many of the points he made back then continue to be relevant for our society today.

See for yourself. While I’m not going to list all of his 25 rules, which present clear explanations following his discussion of each conduct, here’s a sample from Forni’s Rules of Civility:

  • Pay attention.
  • Acknowledge others.
  • Be inclusive.
  • Listen.
  • Think the best.
  • Respect others’ opinions.
  • Respect other people’s time and space.
  • Accept and give praise.
  • Apologize earnestly.
  • Accept and give constructive criticism.
  • Speak kindly.
  • Refrain from idle complaints.

I think that’s a pretty good code of ethics by which to live our lives. It’s certainly been my code of behavior, personally and professionally. It has enabled me to genuinely support and help my clients through very difficult times.

Often, as they go through the mediation process, my clients begin to treat each other with more civility. Seeing them model this positive behavior toward one another is a good indication of how they will communicate going forward. This is one of the reasons I find mediation so gratifying as a profession.

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3 responses on “Whatever Happened to Civility?

  1. Mayda Idone

    Thank you Susan
    Both articles are well written, allowing the reader to absorb the topic, and continue thinking about it.

  2. Karen Kristjanson

    I couldn’t agree more! To me, civility builds a cushion of elementary trust between people, which then can allow for constructive discussion at a deeper level if needed or wanted. The absence of civility leaves a gap of indifference which supports nothing but vague hostility or distrust.

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