The noble virtue of civility

By R. Barry Cronin

I’d like to share a few thoughts on the importance of civil behavior. For those not exactly sure of the precise meaning, civility is defined simply as courteous and considerate behavior toward others.

I do understand fully how difficult it can be sometimes to keep your cool and remain courteous and polite. In your daily interactions with other people, you will invariably encounter mean, rude, selfish, and inconsiderate people spanning the entire spectrum, from the sullen mono-syllabic youngster, to the loud-mouthed, obnoxious adult, all the way up to the crabby, old, blue-haired retiree.

Unfortunately, rude, crude, and inconsiderate people are everywhere, and it does take a lot of self-control and discipline to maintain one’s composure when others all around have lost and/or voluntarily surrendered their own. In truth, someone who can actually accomplish this on a consistent basis is truly genuine and rare. Be forewarned however, it is a very tall order!

In today’s popular media, to possess and display an angry “in-your-face” attitude is portrayed as an enviable thing. We see examples of it every day, from aggressive driving and road rage on our streets, to boorish and downright reprehensible celebrities and entertainers, insolent, overpaid athletes behaving like spoiled brats, all the way to gross and obscene T-shirts worn proudly in public places. Even the vulgar language that was not so long ago considered shocking and offensive is now common and routine, particularly among the young.

In American contemporary “culture” today, it sometimes seems surly behavior, a menacing demeanor, and blatant contempt for anything and everything wholesome and decent has somehow become acceptable, even desirable behavior. It most assuredly is not! “Good manners” is not some quaint anachronism of interest only to Emily Post and folks of like ilk. It is vitally important to us all, for both safety and sanity.

Permit me the following analogy. Society is not unlike an internal combustion engine — lots of high-speed moving parts. Without adequate lubrication, those high-speed moving parts begin to rub and scrape one another in increasingly destructive ways, eventually overheating. Ultimately the engine seizes up and everything grinds to a stop. Society is no different — lots of people interacting with other people. The “lubricant” that keeps a society from overheating is that basic common courtesy. Without it, people “overheat” and bad things start to happen.

The foundation for all human social behavior rests on civility and consideration toward one another. In this alarmingly gigantic and ever-expanding “hoi polloi” of crudity that is our world, it is more important than ever that even more and more of us strive to rise above the rude masses (sometimes referred to jokingly by my own dear father as “the great unwashed”) and embrace the genteel arts as our own.

Fear not! There is nothing unmanly, shameful, or “uncool” about being polite and courteous toward others. On the contrary, nothing could be further from the truth. Genuinely considerate people radiate class. They are as a rule noble folk, virtuous, and worthy of emulation, modern day “better angels of our nature.”

The good news is that the people who live in our community already do enjoy something of a reputation for being friendly and decent, so we have a head start! That is not the case everywhere, however. The other good news is that courtesy is highly contagious. If you haven’t done so already, try and make civility your default “modus operandi” whenever you deal with anyone else. Remember, as the old adage goes, “civility costs nothing and buys everything.”

R. Barry Cronin is a retired Marine Corps colonel.

   
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