Gary’s May Gems – A Clarion Call for Civility
I’m nostalgic for civility. That quaint concept where we treated others with respect regardless of whether or not we agreed with their opinions. Politeness isn’t a bourgeois affectation. Being kind isn’t a sign of weakness. And manners existed beyond the pages of Emily Post.
Good manners were drilled into our heads in school and reinforced at home. What do kids do today when exposed to our political leaders who act like the very bullies they encounter in their school hallways? Yes, social media is rampant with examples of meanness and incivility. While it exacerbates the problem, I believe it’s a symptom, not the cause.
Is stress to blame? Is COVID, which has had more farewell tours than Cher, the cause? Is it the loss of trust in our institutions? I’ll leave this one for the sociologists.
Politicians rage against the government; drivers rant against other drivers, airline passengers rage against flight attendants and idiots rage against anyone who disagrees. Civility and politeness have been declining for a long time. Trust in our institutions has dissipated. Without belief in the social contract we agreed to as citizens, we become a collection of individuals looking out just for ourselves.
If there is a fix, it will need to come from us. Individuals. Just as people hung on to “hope” in the face of unimaginable horror, we need to put our current peeves in perspective and hold on to what makes us human. Anxiety and rage come from insecurity, a lack of feeling in control. We need to be kind to reap kindness. We need to make civility contagious.
My parents sent us to Sunday school for years, which led to confirmation classes with our minister. I wasn’t a particularly great Sunday School student, but I did enjoy the bible stories. During my confirmation interview, I needed to name the three sacraments. I couldn’t. The minister was very generous with hints but to no avail. Showing a significant amount of mercy, he gave me a pass anyway.
As I look back at this experience, I believe knowing the sacraments doesn’t make one a Christian; it’s part of the entry test that gets you a membership card to a particular religious club. While my Sunday School classes didn’t inspire me to be a minister, they did spark curiosity about religion. I fanned that spark in CÉGEP (Québec equivalent to College) when I enrolled in a religious study course. I studied Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.
My father used to tease me a lot about my theological curiosity. One day at the dinner table, he asked what religion I decided to follow. I told him I didn’t want to change religion. Why would I? They are all fundamentally founded on the same value, namely the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Religion is civility, kindness, and empathy formalised in doctrine.
We come across examples of impoliteness every day. How do we react? Do we civilly take the high road and smile at the offender? Or do we take revenge?
Me? I’m working on it.
Here are a few of my pet peeves that challenge my civility:
- People who bully waiters, cashiers, receptionists, phone agents, or any front line person. The customer isn’t always right.
- Drivers who don’t use their indicator lights.
- Parents who side with their children and blame the teacher for the problem.
- People who use social media for intimidation.
- An oldie but goodie, people who don’t say thank you when you hold open the door.
Do you have any? Share them. It’s good therapy.
Now on to this month’s Gems.