Civility is defined as courtesy, politeness … a polite act, attention or expression.
It’s one of those behavioral issues that comes to the forefront whenever we read or hear of mass shootings and acts of horrific violence, abuse, intolerance … which it seems happen more frequently than occasionally.
Media reports heighten interest and generate discussion but any active response soon fades … until another evil act occurs.
“Whatever happened to civility?” was discussed in this column in October 2012 when I commended the Knights of Columbus for trying to do something about it. The Knights had launched a national campaign for civility in America, especially in regard to political campaigns.
A noble effort indeed!
But since then, I’ve not seen or heard of any results of the effort. It probably fell on deaf ears. But with the upcoming presidential election, perhaps it will be revived to make a difference.
Recently, the issue came to our attention locally … this time from the City of Greenfield, where I live. This summer, Greenfield is attempting to promote civility among its residents through citywide book discussion.
The purpose of the June-September effort is to encourage reading as a means of self-education in conversation/discussion groups on how to be nice to each other. Already a nice place to live, the idea is to make it nicer and better by encouraging men, women and children, family members, friends and neighbors, to get together to enjoy a good book on a topic that benefits everyone.
As reported in the Journal Sentinel weekly Greenfield/West Allis NOW supplement, Greenfield librarian Sheila O’Brien said with community reads becoming popular in cities across America, the goal is simply for everyone to enjoy a good book together.
Can you imagine an all-city book club?
Hopefully, reading will make Greenfield residents generate common courtesy among each other and whomever they meet.
Efforts will focus on the book, “Choosing Civility: 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct” by P.M. Forni, a professor of Italian literature and civility at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.
To show it means business, not only has the book been introduced in Greenfield schools but school and library officials are offering free to residents paperback copies (196 pages/$12.99) and discussion kits, including a list of participating events.
Citing results of one full and one abbreviated discussion as of mid-June, O’Brien already has noticed a difference in outlook between young people and those more mature over whether certain things are civil.
O’Brien said young people seem to be aware of how Twitter, Facebook and other aspects of social media tend to bring out uncivil behavior. She said many people regret tweets or Facebook postings.
Forni is involved in Johns Hopkins Civility Project, a cluster of academic and outreach activities aimed at assessing the relevance of civility and good manners in today’s society.
Forni’s publication was selected because it’s not just a book of rules on manners. O’Brien said the book “draws on literature, history, religion, philosophy and popular culture to show the background of where concepts come from and why they’re important.”
In part one, Forni said civility’s characteristic is its ties to city and society. He said the age-old assumption behind civility is that life in the city has a civilizing effect.
“The city is where we enlighten our intellect and refine our social skills,” he said. “And as we are shaped by the city, we learn to give of ourselves for the sake of the city … we can describe the city as courteous, polite and well-mannered, reminding us that we are also supposed to be good citizens and good neighbors.”
He said, “While working on the project, I had been giving thought to the widely perceived decline of the quality of social interaction – the so-called coursing of America.”
Among Forni’s 25 rules of conduct are:
Don’t speak ill of someone, speak kindly; be inclusive; think twice before asking favors; refrain from idle complaints; don’t shift responsibility and blame; accept and give praise; give constructive criticism; respect others’ opinions; apologize earnestly; respect the environment and be gentle to animals.
To encourage residents to take civility seriously, Greenfield events include: book discussions with business, civic and government leaders and faith-based groups; and for intergenerational groups, children, special needs residents, teens, adults and parents.
Book discussions for a “guys night out” and “ladies afternoon out” are scheduled in August. The information kit includes 25 suggested discussion questions.
Highlighting community events is a keynote presentation “Choosing Civility” by Daniel Buccino from Johns Hopkins Civility Project on Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Greenfield High School Performing Arts Center.
So, hats off to the City of Greenfield and Knights of Columbus for attempting to make our world a better place!
Their efforts should serve as example for more groups, organizations and cities to emulate because promoting, encouraging and exemplifying prudent and ethical behavior is everyone’s responsibility.
As we are reminded in Mt 19:19 and Gal 5:14 – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
(Out and About is a regular feature of Mature Lifestyles that looks at issues affecting the older adult community. Horn, a retired Catholic Herald reporter, is a member of St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.)