Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Is Showing Disappointment Civil?

Does being civil mean we have to always be agreeable and accommodating?

While “being civil” can indicate “a person or organization marked by benevolence”, it’s more commonly understood that being civil is adhering to the norms of polite social intercourse and not deficient in common courtesy; "After their disagreement, their relations were civil though not cordial."

Can a person express disappointment or dissatisfaction then and still be civil?

While being warm and friendly goes a long way towards building interpersonal relationships, and benevolence and random acts of kindness are good for the soul, one can be firm and respectful and still be civil.

In my very first blog, “Turn The Other Cheek” I talked about how being civil isn’t about letting someone plow over you, but it's about "asserting one's equality, modeling proper behavior instead of reflecting back anger, and giving the other person the opportunity and space to recognize their misdeeds and make a change."

Does that mean it’s okay to flip someone off because they pulled in front of you feel they didn’t give you enough space? No, that isn’t polite and that would be "deficient in common courtesy". It does mean you can honk to let them know they did something that you didn’t feel is civil or considerate. When that driver realizes that people keep honking at him or her, then perhaps he or she will realize they have a green tail*.

   * The Green Tail

  • If someone says you have a green tail, the person is crazy.
  • If two people say you have a green tail, it is a conspiracy.
  • If seven people say you have a green tail, then turn around and look!

On the other hand, if you find yourself honking at a lot of people, then perhaps you have to ask yourself if you have the green tail*.

This moves me to settle on the opinion that showing disappointment or dissatisfaction (appropriately) is not just civil but perhaps our inherent civic responsibility – to give each other valuable feedback and awareness of civility and civic virtue (see my blog "What is Civility?) in order to do our part in making this world a better place.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Civility and Peace

I was in Washington, D.C. today, and happened upon a celebration on the west lawn of the Capitol Building. It turns out that today was "International Day of Peace". Sponsored by the United Nations, it was declared as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence.

One speaker was U.S. Ambassador (ret.) John W. McDonald, the originating founder of the day, as well as a host of other advocates. One of the speakers explained, "As a collective, Human Beings are not generally nice to others that don't fit to a social norm. That could be ethnic, religious, sexual, or based on ability."

Wow. That struck a cord with me since it collided with my internal definition of civility. Does that mean as a collective, humans aren't civil? What is the difference between civility and peace? Can you have one without the other?

What is peace? From Wikipedia we get:
Peace is a state of harmony characterized by the lack of violence, conflict behaviors and the freedom from fear of violence. Commonly understood as the absence of hostility, peace also suggests the existence of healthy or newly healed interpersonal or international relationships, prosperity in matters of social or economic welfare, the establishment of equality, and a working political order that serves the true interests of all.
In a previous blog What is civility? I brought together some ideas about what civility means. One of those ideas centers around civility as a behavior, not necessarily a mindset.

This means to me that we can still act civilly without necessarily being peaceful, and likewise can be peaceful without necessarily being civil. While the two concepts aren't direct descendants of each other, they do seem to be in the same family and perhaps as close as cousins, if not direct siblings.

I guess what triggered my reflection was the notion that "human beings are not generally nice to others". Like doctors who spend the majority of the time treating illness, perhaps this speaker had experienced more than a fair share of people not being nice to each other. Or perhaps I'm being culturally myopic as a sheltered American, brought up in a country founded on Christian values. While some may internally struggle with people who are of different beliefs, abilities, ethnicities, ages, socio-economic levels, et cetera, I believe our values teach us to be somewhere on the continuum of "Tolerant - Civil - Understanding - Accepting - Loving - Oneness".

Funny enough, as I was pondering that particular thought, a new speaker stepped up and started talking about a "Oneness University" in India, and a way of thinking that encourages connectedness and compassion towards others. Their experience is to attain an awareness or deepening through meditation and such.

Another speaker at the event, left us with an additional thought to consider:
"You can't have external peace without first having internal peace."
I guess that follows the old adage, "If you want to change the world, start with the person in the mirror."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Continuum of Civility to Psychopathology

A civil person is generally respectful, demonstrates empathy for others and their situation or condition, and generally is cognizant of how their actions affect others. (See my blog What is civility?")

In my mind, the opposite of a civil person is a sociopath - someone who exhibits unwarranted boldness, disinhibition and poor behavioral restraints, and meanness or lack of empathy, use of cruelty, exploitative tendencies, and defiance of authority, to say the least.

While psychology isn't black and white or cut and dry, one of the key factors or indicators of possible psychopathology that can be used in determining whether an individual has sociopathic tendencies is in the person's ability to self-critisize, or self-correct based on the external world.

For example, a sociopath whose actions hurt another may think "They deserved it." as opposed to "Oh, I should stop, what I'm doing is hurting another human being." (This is not to be confused with appropriate punishment of a person for crimes they committed knowing the consequence (that is one way we learn from our mistakes) nor to be confused with still having compassion for a person who is suffering regardless of how or why they got there.)

Another example may be an individual who disrespects or acts out towards an authority figure by trying to publicly humiliate or criticize the person's work or tarnish the person's reputation, when the authority figure is correctly performing his or her job and acting in fairness and best interest of all parties.

I read a cool, thought provoking quote recently:

Time decides who you meet in life, your heart decides who you want in your life, and your behavior decides who stays in your life.

That made me consider the thougth, "What behaviors are key to me keeping the people in my life that are important to me?" Obviously consideration, but excersizing self-reflection, being aware of how my actions, thoughts, and behaviors are affecting others, and correcting myself when I find I am missing the mark or acting in a way that is not respectful, empathetic, or aware.

That keeps me on the correct side of the continuum from civility to a psychopathology.

Empathy Reflection Respect

Friday, November 23, 2012

Using Our Backbone Not Our Wishbone

In President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, on January 20, 1961, he said " ... ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."

That quote came to mind as I was reading an apparent news article my sister "liked" on Facebook. It was a message from a community member to it's teen population:

Northland College principal John Tapene has offered the following words from a judge who regularly deals with youth.
     ”Always we hear the cry from teenagers ‘What can we do, where can we go?’
     "My answer is this: Go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons, and after you’ve finished, read a book. Your town does not owe you recreational facilities and your parents do not owe you fun.
     "The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something. You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in poverty or sick and lonely again. In other words, grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone, not a wishbone. Start behaving like a responsible person. You are important and you are needed. It’s too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday. Someday is now and that somebody is you!"
Whether or not it was directed at teenagers, is it not fitting for all of us? We are all important, and we are all needed. Someday is now, and that somebody is us.

The month of November brings to mind two holidays for me: Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving. Both are about a sense of gratitude to those who gave something dear for us to be here.

So on top of sense of civil duty to contribute to our community, may I also add we have a debt of gratitude to those who have created what we have today, and remind ourselves of the obligation to value it and take care of it. I'd suggest if not just for our moral sense, if not just for our children, to include in our motivation our deep respect for those who "... gave their lives that this nation might live." (From President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863) and those in our community at all levels that make sacrifices on a routine basis to do the right thing.

As I go to mow my own lawn, I'll end with another quote from President John F. Kennedy from the same inaugural speech quoted above: "With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love ..."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Willfulness and It's Cost

I was shopping in the supermarket today, and witnessed a parent forcing a child to do something that was clearly not in the best interest of either of them. However, the parent had set down a path, and didn't want to give in. Honestly, I don't know the whole circumstances, so it wasn't my place to judge either of them, but it did give me a cause to pause.

It encouraged me reflect on a few people in my life that I'd classify as strong-willed or stubborn. What came to mind was an old proverb or ancient saying (some attribute it to Buddha):

     "No matter how far down the wrong road you've gone, still turn back."

While anyone would probably instantly agree with this saying, it's another thing to apply it in our lives.

Why would we continue to travel down a wrong road? Sometimes it's just a matter of recognizing we are going down the wrong road, other times it may be a matter of swallowing our pride. Occasionally it might be a temporary escape from reality to allow us to mentally process something, or to even emotionally see how we feel. Or we might actually get some personal temporary "pay off" like a short-term or false good feeling as a way to cope.

Either way, I'd still suggest to decide if one is actually traveling down the wrong road, and if so, realize that the longer the walk back, the more energy, time, cost, and toll it will take on us to get back. That might be the impetus that gives us the strength and courage to turn around when we really know we should.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What is civility?

I don't just mean what does Google say or how Wikipedia defines it; I mean how does being civil really manifest in our daily life?

For example, some people I know are going to court to decide custody of their child. With the amount of negative things being said, and accusations being made, I wonder why it is called "civil court." People can agree to disagree, or have contrast without conflict, so why would someone try to dredge up, exagerate, or even make up false stories to make the other party look bad? It was disturbing to hear what was concocted, even under oath.

From Google:

  1. Formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.
  2. Polite remarks used in formal conversation.
courtesy - politeness - comity - urbanity - complaisance

I guess I didn't see any "formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech." I didn't see any "Polite remarks used in formal conversation." What I saw was angry people locked in hurt, anger, and resentment. Does civility go out the door when the going gets tough?

From Wikipedia:

Civic virtue is the cultivation of habits of personal living that are claimed to be important for the success of the community. The identification of the character traits that constitute civic virtue have been a major concern of political philosophy. The term civility refers to behavior between persons and groups that conforms to a social mode (that is, in accordance with the civil society), as itself being a foundational principle of society and law.

It was refreshing to see some attorney's being reasonably cooperative, and a Judge who worked with the scope of the law, and witnesses being responsive to good-faith questions.

I was disappointed to see other attorneys making personal attacks and false claims, encouraging their clients to victimize themselves, and focus on potential bad instead of potential good. It's one thing to zealously defend your client, but to see an attorney cross the line of ethics violates what I believe civility to be. It's those few who give lawyers a bad wrap.

In my humble opinion, civil court should be doing what's right; in this case what's right for the child or children. It should not be a matter of cleverness or legal jargon or theatrics.

Would I be going too far to suggest that a lack of civility may be a way of covering up for one's shortcomings or a way to project guilt or blame? Or perhaps a subtle form of narcissism or sociopathic personality?

I believe being civil is not "doing whatever it takes to achieve your outcome" but to do whatever it takes to operate within the confines of what is right, what is best for the parties, and in this case, the child or children.

I guess that's why we have Civil Court; to restore the chance of making things right when one of the parties is not being civil.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Beliefs and Quality of Life

There is an old chinese proverb something to the effect of "If you have an equal choice to interpret something as bad or as good, you're better off to interpret it as good." I believe the reasoning is that if you interpret something as bad and carry around those negative feelings and fears of it, then you live with those bad feelings. If you interpret something as good, then you carry around those feelings and hopes instead. Which would you rather have in your life?

I heard through the grapevine that a friend of mine said something about me. It could have been taken as either bad or good, depending on the context. I was faced with a choice: Do I believe he meant it in ill and get mad, and carry that with me until I could see him again or ask him about it? Or do I assume that he meant it in a good context, and carry gratitude and appreciation in my heart? I chose the later. I figured I could always get mad in a second if I needed to, but I could never get back that moment of gratitude and peace that I would miss if I got mad then. I really didn't have the facts, so would good would it do me to get defensive, accusatory, or worse? It would only block my judgement, cause internal suffering, and perhaps even create bad feelings between us. As it turns out, it was worth making the choice to feel good about it, because he explained the context, and it was a complement. That is, if he was telling me the truth. So do I choose to believe him, or choose to not believe him? Again, do I want to live in fear or in peace? It could be an endless cycle. Guess what choice I made.

Was I being naive? What if he hurt me? What if he lied to me? What if, what if, what if? I have to believe my choice of friends isn't that off that I would hang around people who would intentionally lie, slander, or cheat me. If that were the case, I'd have bigger problems. I've found that over time I do learn the character of the people I hang around, and that is also comforting. Time will tell, and time does tell.

That leads to my faith in humanity. Do people really want to do the "right" thing? Are people basically "good"? I reflect back to my previous thoughts, about choosing to believe in good over bad. That doesn't mean I won't make a mistake in judgment, or that everyone is perfect, or that we all agree what the "right" thing even is. However, I choose to believe that most people do value human life, and care about others, and want to feel good about themselves and others.

Why do I qualify that with "most"? I used to believe the world was a safe place, until I had a really bad experience with someone who was psychopathic. The person's goal was to hurt others, ruin a family, destroy relationships, spread hate and discontent. While talking to a psychologist about the experience, he asked me why I thought the world was a safe in the first place? He began to point out recent events, local events, and a book on his desk with a load of psychological diagnoses. I realized that to live in absolutes would mean I was being naive, so I needed to walk toward the middle, not just swing the other way in reaction. So I settled on "most". I choose to believe that "most" people are good. What is your choice?