Sara Hacala, a certified etiquette and protocol consultant, has written a cogent and practical resource guide outlining the ideas, attitudes, and practices necessary to restore civility in American society where it is increasingly under fire from many directions.
Among the signs of a trend toward incivility are texting and cell phone abuse, getting bothered by having to wait, and anger against those who cut in line. General rudeness is demonstrated by self-absorption, selfishness, an inability to listen, a failure to be truly present, and a lack of respect for people.
Another sign of the times that hinders the practice of civility is the frantic pace of life and the way we communicate through keystrokes and social media sites. As a result, face-to-face interaction, even voice-to-voice, are superseded by texting and e-mail. Finally, there is the disturbing use of anonymity on the Internet as an aggressive and potent weapon which can be used to trash bloggers and reviewers, spread malicious gossip, and terrorize others through cyberbullying.
Saving Civility is a call to action rather than an assessment of bad manners and even worse behavior. Hacala believes that true change can only come when we all do our part "to shape a more civilized society and a politer planet." She counsels us to ponder our own behavior at home, at work, and in public. Do we put others or ourselves first? Do we have a deep respect for all people or do we see some as enemies or contenders or below us? Are we able to empathize or are we oblivious to others? Do we really listen when someone else is speaking or do we constantly interrupt in order to score points? Are we nice or nasty? Can we control our temper or do we have no interest in anger management?
In order to give you a sense of the 52 ways to save civility, here are some of the chapter titles:
• Sharpen Your Social Antenna
• Hold Your Tongue
• Disagree Agreeably
• Celebrate Diversity
• Practice Nonviolence
• Embrace Kindness
• Consider Your Fellow Travelers
According to Hacala, civility is often animated by ethics and morality. Underneath polite behavior is a reverence for life that honors the goodness and divinity within others. Certain important character values grow out of civility such as trust, telling the truth, taking the high road of integrity, cultivating optimism, being generous, embodying patience, being grateful (beginning with the basics such as saying please, thank you, and excuse me), minding your cybermanners, and learning to forgive.
Mohandas Gandhi once said: "I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles: but today, it means getting along with people." The simple act of being friendly is one of the major building blocks of a more civil society. It means relating in positive ways to people we meet and collaborating instead of competing with them. "Given that most of us want to be liked, becoming likeable is something we can all put our minds to."
Saving Civility by Sara Hacula is a pathbreaking work that offers sage advice on ways we can become emissaries for courtesy, reverence, respect, and empathy in these contentious and adversarial times.