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Civility, a Word No Longer Used

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D. 

Natasha Josefowitz

LA JOLLA, California–So much anger in Washington, such acrimony and hatred out of control! What is happening to normally rational people to push them over the edge and make them act out? We read about fanatics and zealots in Africa and in the Middle East, who are extreme in their views, bent on killing, whose passions for a cause or a territory or a religion send them into a frenzy of irrational behaviors.

As a child, I remember feeling murderous against Hitler, but I have not had the wish to kill since then. Perhaps, if my home were threatened, or my family, I would defend them to the best of my ability, but I would always opt first for a peaceful meeting to discuss differences. I believe in civility—a word which, like the civil behavior it describes, has fallen into disuse.

The lack of civility in America today, is one of the factors of the breakdown of family life, unethical practices in business, and dishonesty in politics.

Civility is civilization at its best. It is control over one’s negative impulses, delay over the desire for instant gratification. It is the antithesis of “letting it all hang out,” it is the quest for calm, for rationality as opposed to shouting incendiary remarks.

Civility is the opposite of unbridled passions, the opposite of rhetoric or lies. It is more than mere politeness, it is the knowledge that personal well-being and the pursuit of personal goals cannot be separated from the well-being and goals of others, whether members of our family, our friends, our organizations, or our country.

Civility requires listening to others with an open mind and responding with an open heart. It requires knowing ourselves: our tendency to manipulate others, to serve our own interests first. Civility is learned at home by example. Children observe their parents in interaction with themselves and others and they imitate.

We are not born civil. We are born to grab from others, to hit the child whose toy we want, to have tantrums when we are denied a wish. Parents are the first teachers of civility, then schools continue when they do “time out” for unruly behavior in the classroom or the playground and never allow bullying.

Civility should continue in the place of work where people are respected whether the relationships are among peers or up and down the hierarchy.

Next time you feel anger and wish to strike out either physically, verbally, or emotionally, ask yourself whether you can predict the outcome of the lashing out as something positive. In other words, will that other person see the light, be convinced, and change the behavior to suit you? Perhaps all you want to achieve is to make the other person feel bad, guilty, hurt, punished. Will vengefulness make you feel better in the long run, or will a postponement of your reaction to a calmer time when discussion can ensue be a wiser choice?

Civility is a sign of true maturity, so let us resolve to remain civil no matter what the circumstances, to be aware of what triggers us to spin out of control and help others do the same by projecting calm, attentiveness, and thoughtfulness, understanding others’ points of view even when disagreeing with them. Allowing them to think differently from us is the road to world peace.

A Different Lens

by Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D.

One of my hands
is being held
by someone
who agrees with me
and I smile
and feel comfortable

My other hand
is being held
by someone
who disagrees with me
and I sigh
and feel challenged

because I have an opportunity
to see the world
through a different lens
I am given the chance
to learn

Preceding column and poem appeared previously in La Jolla Village Voice

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