by SUSAN McAninch
Susan McAninch is a retired clinical social worker and psychotherpist.
I think I am civil, however, how do I keep engaged with someone who isn’t civil at all? What should I do or say when I am personally attacked by another person? I want to keep talking but it is so difficult!
Thank you for your important questions. I think these questions are on the lips of every person who wants to be committed to civility in everyday life. How do you stay respectful and deal with someone who is not treating you with respect?
This issue is at the heart of civil discourse, and can make or break relationships of all sorts. I would like to use two columns to address your questions. In Part I, I will lay the groundwork and in Part II will provide additional guidelines.
BY Orlaine gabert
Orlainer Gabert is a retired counselor.
Reprinted with permission from The Green Bay Press Gazette and Door County Advocate
Another cornerstone of civility is at all times having an attitude of kindness. Words that are used to define kind are “of a sympathetic nature, loving, of a forbearing nature, showing a gentle considerate nature, and interest in another’s welfare.”
While the “American Way” has us focused on striving to do and become whatever we want to be, to seemingly be successful no matter what you have to do, this truly can be more easily accomplished with the attitude of kindness. Just remember Mary Poppins’ words “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
Reposted with permission from the Peninsula Pulse LLC
The last time I heard that phrase was probably in eighth grade math class, just before being sent to stand at attention at the back of the room for not paying attention. I was a serial offender in the not paying attention category in math class because I had – and continue to have – less than zero interest in the subject and its principles.
I had other interests, mostly to do with words and how to manipulate them. My brain was filled with words. There was no room for figures. But that's something an awkward, pimply eighth grader has a hard time expressing to a crazy world that insists on math for everyone.
So, to continue to show my disinterest in the subject while standing at attention at the back of the room, I would at irregular intervals bump the wall with the heavy heel of my wingtip shoe (wingtips were all the rage then, largely because they were well-built shoes and you never knew when you'd have to deliver a solid kick to someone's chiclets). It caused a strange reverberating thump in the cheap school walls.
Kids started snickering as the thumps continued. The math teacher, a very mild-mannered fellow named Mr. Anderson, ignored the noise at first. So I continued to bang the wall. Kids continued to snicker.
And then, before I knew what had happened, I was on the cold floor and Mr. Anderson was on top of me with his hands around my neck and his suddenly very red face millimeters above mine. For a while in school after that incident I was known as the kid who drove teachers crazy, until another kid so enraged a shop teacher that the teacher spectacularly broke his clipboard over the kid's head (I was in that class when it happened).
But, in full disclosure, the math teacher was not the only teacher I caused to get physical. The worst came from a muscle-bound gym teacher who bounced me around an empty hallway until he drew blood.
When I think of all the dustups I had with teachers and witnessed other students have with teachers in junior high school (yes, it was long before "middle" schools), it seems like we were all savages (the wingtip thing for one…yikes!).
Had I only shown the courtesy of paying attention in Mr. Anderson's math class and Mr. Anick's gym class and Mr. Hauer's science class, I wouldn't have caused them to lose their marbles and act like savage beasts. They only wanted my undivided attention for an hour or so of the day, five days a week, a little more than nine months of the year. Who knows, I might even have learned something.
If I had paid attention in those classes I had no interest in, just as a common courtesy to the fellow human being at the front of the room who does believe in the particular subject, I wouldn't have flicked the primeval switch in the otherwise staid and civil teachers of children. I often wonder if they regret beating me up as much as I regret causing them to completely lose their cool.
Does reaching that stage of wonder about the other person at last make me a civil person? Is that what is known as enlightenment?
I hope so.
Pay attention is the first of nine principles being promoted by the Door County Civility Project. We'll highlight each one through September, and they are, February: Listen; March: Be Inclusive; April: Not Gossip; May: Show Respect; June: Be Agreeable; July: Apologize; August: Give Constructive Criticism; September: Take Responsibility;
By its very nature, civility is something we share. So we would like to hear from you about any random acts of civility you are aware of or witness. Send them to email@example.com.
If you are in the market for a new year’s resolution you can actually keep, choose civility. It is not measured in pounds or BMI; nor does it require a membership fee or expensive special equipment. Choosing civility is a low cost, high reward resolution that is guaranteed to enhance and improve the quality of your life. And isn’t that what resolutions are all about—self-improvement?
Perhaps you already know and support the work of the Door County Civility Project (doorcountycivilityproject.org and Facebook and Twitter). Perhaps you are familiar with the nine tools of civility (see box). And perhaps you recognize some less-than-civil habits in yourself that you would like to change this year. For example, you may decide that it is in your best interest, not to mention the people you live and work with, to be a more agreeable person than you currently are. But how do you make a lasting change—one that sticks?
Seeing the value in change and wanting to change a bad habit are clearly the first critical steps towards positive change. But we all know that, by itself, wanting to change does not make it happen. To the best of my knowledge, the only way to make a lasting change is to put in the necessary time, attention, and energy. While there is not much solid scientific evidence about how long it may take, one study quoted in a recent Harvard newsletter found that it took anywhere from 18 to 254 days before an action became automatic—that is, became a habit. The average was 66 days.
So, start achieving your lasting resolution by accepting the reality that gradual work towards change significantly improves your odds of success. Rushing change rarely works. Sorry, no overnight success stories here. Think months, not days or weeks.
Next, dream big. For example, picture yourself as the agreeable person you want to be; more generous, more affectionate, more cooperative with others. This big goal sets the target. Take some time to figure out why you have not made this change before. What was in it for you to be disagreeable? What you want is to tip the scales of the plusses and minuses enough that making this change is better than standing still.
Now, create a plan for yourself by thinking small, even tiny. Break that big goal into small goals, starting with the most easily accomplished change. For example, you could begin with an easy but effective goal of saying, “yes, and” instead of saying, “yes, but.” Don’t sabotage yourself by going for the hardest change first. As you start to practice your new strategies, you will find that you don’t feel quite right if you stop. That is a great incentive to keep going. You can gradually up the ante to changes that are more difficult. This way, you keep nudging your way towards the big goal. Make yourself accountable by signing the Civility Pledge (doorcountycivilityproject.com). Make a promise to someone whom you don’t want to let down.
Change is hard, or we wouldn’t need resolutions. But once your new habit takes root, you can rest assured that it will be as hard to break as the old habit. Happy New Year!
The Nine Tools of Civility
Do not gossip
Give constructive criticism
Retired Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist
Choosing civility is putting the principle of respect for others into everyday practice. The core, or center, of civil behavior is respect. Behaviors move along a continuum from this center, the positive ones in one direction (paying attention, being inclusive, listening, the principles being addressed in this column), and the negative ones in the other direction (apathy, passive or active disregard for others, discounting the experience of others, exclusion, discrimination, outright hostility).
Understandably, much is made out of showing respect for others. We are told/taught to respect our parents and our teachers. We talk about respect for authority, for cultural and religious differences, and for the freedom to have those differences. P.M. Forni, in his book, Choosing Civility, Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct, places a lot of emphasis on self-respect and expands on the civil duty of respecting others’ opinions.
You may have noticed that I have not rushed into defining respect. You are right, and the reason is that this is where it starts to get complicated. Conventional ways of defining and speaking about respect take us in conflicting directions. When respect is defined as a feeling of deep admiration for someone, does this mean that we must admire someone in order to respect him? And does its negative corollary also apply?
A second definition of respect is having regard for the feelings, right or traditions of others, such as respect for autonomy or human rights. Is it enough to respect a person’s rights or beliefs while not respecting the person, and vice versa? We commonly speak in terms of deserving respect, earning respect, losing respect, being worthy of respect. We make respect conditional. It is also commonly suggested that respect is solely a matter of following norms and rules of social engagement and living by the Golden Rule.
The matter gets even more complicated when we add the element of respecting those individuals whose values or behaviors we vehemently disagree with or abhor. And we ask, “How can we respect someone who does not respect himself?” I really do not have definitive answers to these questions, and I certainly cannot answer them for you. But I can add another dimension to the conversation. If we can develop a definition of respect as recognition of the unconditional value of a person, we are freed from differential value judgments. Liking or not liking someone is no longer a determinant of respect. Even though developing unconditional respect for everyone may feel unnatural, it is not an impossible task.
Most of us would agree that even when feelings of unconditional respect for a person do not come instinctively, we should still act respectfully. Actions and behaviors are certainly important and not to be discounted. However, social scientists and others insist that actions alone are not sufficient for achieving a genuine attitude of respect. We need both the internal belief and the external behaviors, or we end up leading a life of self-deception.
In a civil society, should anyone be denied respect? I realize that the answer to this question is open to debate. And a civil society welcomes and is equipped to have that debate.
Each month we are highlighting one of the nine principles of the Door County Civility Project. This month Door County Civility Project team member Susan McAninch writes about Principle No. 5: Show Respect. For more on the project or to sign the Civility Pledge, visit doorcountycivilityproject.org.
Have you witnessed a Random Act of Civility? Let us know about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan McAninch is a retired clinical social worker and psychotherapist.
Reprinted with permission from The Green Bay Press Gazette
Over the past year and a half I have given you nine tools of civil behavior, four cornerstones, and examples of civility. I have tried to focus on the positive outcome of civility. If everyone used the tools and practiced the cornerstone behavior, we would all be living in a civil world.
You and I know that this is not the case. Every day we encounter uncivil behavior. When you see more and more of that behavior, it is natural to hesitate about trying to maintain civil behavior in yourself. When a cornerstone of a building begins to collapse, the structure can begin to tilt. This will put pressure on the others. If they, too, weaken, down it all comes. Consequently, it is just as important for us to be able to identify uncivil behavior in order to strengthen our own civil behaviors.
Let’s begin with our courteous cornerstone and understand and recognize discourteous behavior. We are a very mobile society and all of us spend a good deal of time on the road. Courtesy acknowledges that we are sharing this space with many and must act to keep us all save and moving.
Here are some examples of discourteous behavior on our roads. Either going faster than the speed limit or slower. Bicyclists riding two, three, four across the car lane, rather than single file in the bike lane. Tailgating the driver in front of you when you feel that the car is going too slow. Honking your horn multiple times when you need to only do so once. Crossing in the middle of the street rather than doing so only at the crosswalk. Driving through a red light. Not using your signal or not using it in an appropriate time when you are going to turn. Parking your car too far into the driving lane in areas where there is no designated parking. Talking or texting on your cell phone when you are driving. At a stop sign or light not staying in your lane, but using them both.
There are many occasions when we experience discourtesy in our communications with others. Often someone will not let the person finish their thoughts, but rather will jump in and state their own. At other times the person will begin to display behaviors that show that they are not listening. They will check their cellphones for messages, begin to write a personal note, look through their purse for something, begin a conversation with another person, close their eyes, make gestures of disapproval, anger, or disgust, get up and walk out, or make a derogatory comment.
There are lots of other spaces that we share where discourtesy occurs. Friends are walking down a sidewalk and someone comes the other way, rather than making space, the other person is backed off. You are in a waiting line and someone jumps in front of you. You share an apartment with someone and rules have been agreed. One does not follow them by always leaving a mess, not doing the dishes, using the other’s belonging without permission, keeping music up too loud, having friends over at late hours, or not paying their portion of the bills.
At school or work, you are often asked to work in teams. Often there is one team member who does not do what was agreed to or is always late. At many sporting events, some fans in front of you will stay standing, blocking your view, others will carry on a loud conversation with a friend through the entire game, seat areas can be small, but some will move into your small space or keep bumping you in the back, others will yell mean things to their opponents or the referees, and some spend more time getting out of their seat, going somewhere, and back again repeatedly.
Reprinted with permission from The Green Bay Press Gazette
For my fourth cornerstone of civility, I have chosen maintaining a sense of humor. By definition a sense of humor is “the ability to perceive humor or appreciate a joke, the tendency of particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement, to be amused, to smile or laugh at something funny.”
In general people agree that we all have a sense of humor, and the results of humor-induced behavior are healthy and contribute to positive social interaction. I was once told that one should laugh at least three or four times a day at work and have one belly laugh at least once a week for a positive work environment. Apparently that “gut-busting” laugh engages all 43 facial muscles and the belly, thus exercising them and keeping them functional. Famed comedian Carl Reiner said in an interview on CBS-TV’s “Sunday Morning” that you get more out of people when they are happy.
Unfortunately for our purposes in pursuing civil communication, we need to better define humor.
Often individuals have used humor to hurt, harm, put down, or threaten others. We have heard racial, blond, sexist, ethnic, lawyer, and religious jokes, and probably without thinking have laughed at some. Slapstick comedy has at times been very popular; it was funny to see someone get hit or hurt themselves.
This humor is for malice. The humor I am suggesting to maintain is being called “benign humor.” For something to be funny while it breaks your expectations, social taboos or even personal space, it is benign, not dark, relatively inoffensive, and ultimately non-threatening.
Maintaining this sense of humor, I believe, will help keep our focus on using the tools of civility with the help of the other three cornerstones. I know that some of us seem to have lost our sense of humor. Others have used too much of the hurtful humor.
Here are some suggestions to get back that healthy sense of humor.
First, you need to make laughter a priority. When was the last time you had a good belly laugh? Believe me, it can go a long way to keep you in a positive and happy mood. All it takes is the attitude that life would be better with a laugh.
If you are not laughing much, you can easily put some laughter opportunities in your laugh. There are many comedy shows on TV, the Internet has a many ways that you can find a joke or something funny, there are comedy clubs, and cartoons and comic books. One of my bridge friends gets several jokes a month from her friend and shares them at our games. We all get some good laughs from them.
Second, you can start to laugh at yourself. Our normal approach is to criticize ourselves, let those negative feelings fester until that is all we see in ourselves as well as others. If you let yourself laugh at a mistake or an imperfection, you are taking that step over and over of accepting yourself. This allows you to let go of the negative and embrace the whole person that you are. Others will follow your lead. They, too, can begin to laugh at themselves. Now, in a supportive way, we each can laugh at each other.
Third, you need to use humor in your communication with others. It is good to have a joke or two that you know well to share. Probably the best humor is telling a personal story of an embarrassing moment where you and others can laugh at your humanity. Certainly you can share someone’s story if you have their permission. Often it is great to share a funny happening that the people you are with also were there.
What are the basic rules of civility? How do we practice civility among friends, in the workplace, and with strangers? How do we make it part of who we are?
I’m psychologist Dr. Dennis White with your mental health minute.
If civility is “polite, reasonable and respectful behavior,” or what we used to call “good manners”, why should we even have to discuss the rules or guidelines? Shouldn’t civility just come naturally? Apparently not, when people seem to think it’s ok to bully other people, to attack people personally for their views and to curse or swear indiscriminantly in public?
The Door County Civility Project has joined other similar movements around the country trying to promote the concept of civility and to teach us a little about how to behave with more civility. They have adopted nine core principles of civility. The first of these is “pay attention”. What, you might ask, does this have to do with civility? Dr. P.N.Forni in his book Choosing Civility says “Only after we notice the world and the people in it can we begin to care for it and them.” Every act of kindness is first and act of attention”.
A young, able bodied person on a bus cannot get up and give a seat to an elderly or disabled person if they don’t see them – by paying attention to their surroundings. Driving too close to someone, driving into traffic with high beams on are two similar examples.
How many times have you been in a conversation with someone who was obviously not paying attention and not interested in what you had to say? How did that feel? The first rule of civility is - pay attention. Until next time, this has been Dr. Dennis White with your mental health minute.
Dr DenNis White
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