Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Civility, A thing of the Past?

 There is a great deal of discussion these days about whether civility, is a thing of the past?  By definition, civility could be described as behavioral mores that have been adapted by and adhered to by members of society to advance orderly, respectful and ethical behavior thereby keeping society functional and intact. 

It would seem more and more  we are not playing by these rules any longer.  Those we have elected to serve us in our Congress shout at our Commander-In-Chief while he is giving a public address to our nation, another U.S.  president had to duck a flying shoe directed right at at his head, his safety more a testament to his good reflexes than civil behavior.  Music award acceptance speeches are disrupted by someone else barging on to the stage and initiating a tirade right in the middle of the award speech.  Disputes once settled by cool heads, diplomacy, judgement and calm speak are now settled with a punch knocking out teeth. Everything, it seems, is a free for all.

I own a bed and breakfast in Asheville North Carolina.  One day, while serving breakfast to our guests, shortly after our purchasing the property, I was juggling more than a few plates during this process when a very young woman at the table said rather abruptly, "I want some water."  No problem with that.  I continued serving the rest of our guests & offered my assurance that I would have it to her just in a minute as soon as I dropped off everyone's plate.  To be clear, this girl was not in distress, had not choked, was not coughing and was merely thirsty.  I feel qualified to evalutate this as I am a Registered nurse.  Moving to our Sunroom to finish dropping off the plates 3 feet away I hear her say, "NOW." All my guests were as shocked as I was.   It is a small thing by comparison to demonstrations of road rage, violence, and disrespect to a country in the form of disrespecting it's head of state- but perhaps it is not a thing apart really.

My Nana, a very wise woman having led a challenging life but always an illustration of grace under pressure gave me a bit of instruction in my coming up years. She said that completely irrespective of any one else's behavior, your must keep your own code of conduct and that the moral compass guiding your actions is solely your own.  In other words, it is not reactionary.  It is controlled and is a measure of yourself completely in your control and ideally should have nothing to do with the behavior of others giving them all the power and leaving you simply a flag flapping in the wind responsive to whatever way the wind blows.

Finding your moral and behavioral compass is not easy and sometimes requires trials, tribulations and the living of life to really make your own. Keeping it is even harder to do but as the author, Os Guinness, states so effectively in his recent novel, The Case for Civility And Why Our Future Depends On It the result of our failure to seek civility and keep it sacrosanct could create a society leaving us all at risk for chaos.

To finish the earlier story about the young woman's demand for water.  I found myself enraged and wanted to respond by ignoring her request for a time or calling her on the behavior but I sought and found the quiet but insistent voice of my Nana saying clearly, "You are responsible for your own behavior. Any breach you make in response is not someone else's fault.  It is yours."  Quietly, in measured reaction, in keeping with courtesy, I went to the sink, filled the glass and smiling I handed it to her.  She did  not apologize but she did not look at me either.  Likely, retaliation or anger might have felt better to me but it might not have proved as powerful a tool in creating change and thought. 

Patti and Gary Wiles, Innkeepers 

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