Civility For A Chaotic World

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Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette circa 1980’s

For my twenty-first birthday one of the gifts I received from my mother was my very one book of etiquette.  It was a rite of passage akin to my first string of pearls. My mother had her own time-worn etiquette book by Amy Vanderbilt that she received in her youth. In my childhood I learned things like table setting and envelope addressing  from it.

There are some who probably think a book of etiquette is old-fashioned and not applicable to our modern world. I beg to differ, not just a little, but vehemently. We are instantly plugged into one another around the clock these days. We speak and write our thoughts without filter or contemplating the effects our words have on others or the people who love the targets of our fury. People in the spotlight from celebrities to politicians are not seen as human beings and therefore fair game to threats and persecution. People who speak for a cause or a policy position are immediately vilified by the opposition on a personal level rather than a debate of the issue or issues at hand. Oh, I say we need rules for interactions more than ever before.

The shared roots of civility and civilization is no mistake. I believe without civility we risk the loss of civilization. I cringe at the idea that history will judge our era by the horrendous disrespect that flies on all sides of the issues that face our society today. It seems we think if we are louder and meaner,we can somehow drown out and thus defeat the other side.

History shows us the danger of this behavior. Remember that guy Hitler we read about in school? I was appalled recently when an elected official thought it was acceptable to call for a violent death to a political opponent. It broke the bonds of a democratic society on so many levels. History also shows us that big problems are only overcome when various sides work together to garner consensus and practice the art of compromise, that is the greatness of democracy.

I am all for varying opinions. if you stop and listen to someone with a differing viewpoint, you can learn a new appreciation or come up with a solution you couldn’t think of on your own. At the very least you can develop empathy and understanding for others. Civilization works best when everyone can contribute their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses.

So how do we keep our civilization strong. It begins with civility in our daily interactions. Look at the first line  in the photo above. We have to be thoughtful about what we say and do. We have to be respectful of others even when we don’t agree with them. We are quick to judge and condemn our fellow citizens. Just spend sometime on Facebook and see the shaming photos people post even when they do not personally know the target of their abuse or the circumstances that person might be in. Hateful rhetoric of the personal kind has no place in our civil discourse. By all means, speak your position and explain with facts and data why your way is the better way. Build up instead of tear down.

Our world is hurting right now on so many levels. We have a choice to fuel the fires and be part of the problem or be part of the solution. We have evolved enough as human beings to realize that the biggest threat to a healthy civilization is hate. The only true weapon against it is love. We can create a better society with respect and understanding. It is the onus of each one of us. Not just how we view the world and our nation on the large scale, but how we interact with each other on a daily basis.

My etiquette book may be outdated because it was pre-social media era, but some of its content is timeless. No matter how many years go by the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have done to you, will forever be a measuring stick for our words and behavior.

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