"Civility is not something that automatically happens. Civil societies come about because people want them to." - Jimmy Bise Jr, Us and Them: A Blog conversation Survival Guide, SXSW 2006
I think that’s why our civility has been going down the tubes in our country, because it takes work and constant vigilance.In other words, we’re just too tired to be civil!
Ain’t that the truth? There probably isn’t a good manner, good virtue or trait that happens automatically. Just like maintaining a good weight and eating well, it takes work and constant vigilance.
Think about it. We have jobs that have become not just 9-5 but 8, 10, 12 hour jobs that come home with us even if we don’t want them to. Then if we are parents we need to feed our kids, spend good parenting time with them. If we are single or married without kids yet, we have household chores to do, mow the lawn, take care of a dog or cat, family member and/or a spouse. Then you have your community, your church, your friends asking for help for this project or meeting.
Where do you find the time to practice civility in all this, much less help teach it to your kids, siblings, spouse or co-workers and friends? There’s only so much a body can do.
Do I excuse you from doing it or myself from practicing civility? Not a chance! Our lives today are no more complicated than any of our ancestors, yet they were able to practice civility.
One person I could always count on to be civil out in public was my dad. As an old Navy man, my dad knew a lot of things, especially words I wasn’t supposed to hear unless I had a career in the Navy, but that aside, there were lots of other things he taught me and one of the greatest things was civility.
For most of my dad’s career he was a mediator. Not officially mind you, but in his work with the Chamber of Commerce in 4 different areas of the state, it was his job to bring jobs to town. That meant working with business people, laborers, management, workers and everyone in-between, inside, outside and all around.
As a kid growing up I thought it was natural that my dad could just get along with most anybody. His smile and laughter were always genuine with whomever he was with. He shook hands with all people and meant it. He was not a backstabber, if he promised to do something he got it done come hell or high water. He didn’t make promises he knew he couldn’t keep because it meant either someone not getting a job or a business failing if he did. His word was as good as a contract.
He spent hours and hours not just in an office, but on the road trying to bring new business to town because that meant jobs for people. The only thing I remember my dad not liking was people not working even if that meant he had to work harder to help them have a place to work. He worked with educators, teachers, presidents of corporations, managers, union laborers and leaders, farmers, people with ideas, people who wanted to start a new businesses, young kids looking for job advice, old people switching careers. He worked in an industry that demanded a lot of his time at meetings, conferences and workshops. Although he never finished college he would spend summers taking classes on business ethics, business speaking, how to mediate between businesses, city management, big industry, colleges. And he could do all of that.
As an adult I began to see just how complicated life was and that it wasn’t easy to maintain civility among friends sometimes, much less between management and labor or education verses big business. I remember other people being upset with my dad if they weren’t getting their way. We had our family cars tires slashed, gun shots in the back car door, battery acid poured over the hood of our car and ugly things written in the newspaper. While at home sometimes I would see my dad upset about these things, he never displayed anything but civility in public. And I still marvel at that.
In an age when everyone whines about being “persecuted” my dad had every right to up and quit what he was doing or sue someone or get angry, yet he did none of those things. He had a family to take care of and all he cared about was protecting us and teaching us the right way to do things.
Our society could learn a lot from my dad, who even while dying two years ago still only looked out for his family during his illness. It was never about him but how it affected my mom and my siblings and I.
He was always reaching for better things in life and didn’t have time to sit around and grouse about how tough things were. His advice to us was “get up, get out and do something about it”. Make your life and everyone else’s lives better. Make the world a better place and don’t be afraid of what might happen.
I want to teach my own kids the same thing. If you don’t like what’s going on in your life, “Get up, get out and do something about it!Thanks, Dad!