The Value Of Civility

Selections from the newsletter “A Curriculum of Hope for a Peaceful World,” Fall 2018

“The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.”— Fred Astaire

Before I could give it a name, I noticed it. Not just on the news, but it had begun to creep into places I didn’t expect — like my school. Then, when I finally began my summer vacation, I happened to catch Dr. Helen Fisher of The Kinsey Institute on a morning news show. She was discussing incivility, which is definitely the right word to explain what I have been observing. Incivility is defined as rude or unsociable speech or behavior. Dr. Fisher was explaining what happens in the brain to make incivility and anger contagious, and how once the rules of civility are broken, incivility becomes a social contagion. An article in the Washington Post by William Wan shares additional research that corroborates the conclusion that we are fighting a battle with rudeness, and that exposure to rude behavior causes rude reactions.

Yes, by the end of the school year, there seemed to be an increase in rudeness by students and their parents. We were experiencing deeply concerning behaviors such as profanity, insulting words, and poor decision-making. It was something that had definitely not been the norm, and I don’t want it to become the norm.

Society is certainly changing. Children (and adults) are exposed to behaviors that would have been inconceivable in previous generations. Vulgarity, violence and vitriol are on the news, on the Internet, in video games, and are even demonstrated by politicians. Social media has created a place where anonymity has led to a lack of responsibility and a lack of connection. Boundaries and standards for behavior are becoming blurry.

The opposite of incivility is respect, empathy, self-awareness and self-control. Civility recognizes that we are all human and enables us to live peacefully and productively. Whether this be in a classroom, a school, a neighborhood, a community or in the larger world, we must not lose sight of our responsibility to model, teach and expect civility. Children reflect what they see and hear in their environment. If they do not see civility, they will not know it.

If we envision and are striving for a better world, we have to have this conversation. We need to recognize that incivility cannot be allowed to spread. We must learn to use restraint and return to an understanding of, and a belief in, the importance and value of civility for the common good, above our own self-interests and feelings of entitlement.

The power of the common good was recently demonstrated in the rescue of the boys from the cave in Thailand. Let us use the momentum of that remarkable event to recognize what can happen when people come together with empathy, hope, energy, and action. This is the world we envision for our children and the world we must continue to work toward. Let us persist in our mission to influence the world around us in a quest for restored civility.  — Janice McKusick, Editor

“I get a choice every time I have to open my mouth: that it can be with civility and dignity and grace — or not.” — Dana Perino

Be a Model for Teaching Manners

Say please and thank you. ~ Apologize. ~ Don’t touch other people’s things without permission. ~ Look at someone and listen when someone talks to you. ~ Don’t laugh at or make fun of others. ~ Be mindful and tolerant. ~ Answer when someone talks to you. ~ Be respectful even if you disagree. ~ Don’t gossip. ~ Respect autonomy. ~ Ask others their opinion. ~ Have empathy.

An interesting read can be found at Parenting, in an article by Ellen Sturm Niz entitled “10 Manners Parents Should Be Teaching Their Kids But Aren't.” Here are 5 that we should teach and expect in our classrooms.

  • Students should be taught how to acknowledge visitors to the classroom. This includes making eye contact, how to welcome them when they come, and what to say when they leave. One suggestion in the article is to ask your students the visitor’s eye color after they leave. Your students will make a lasting impression by using good manners.
  • Teach respect for elders, including letting the older person go first and opening and holding the door.
  • Have students move to the right to let others pass.
  • Make sure students know not to point or stare.
  • Encourage students to learn and use people’s names.

“I think the thing I miss most in our age is our manners. It sounds so old-fashioned in a way. But even bad people had good manners in the old days, and manners hold a community together, and manners hold a family together; in a way, they hold the world together.” — Nancy Friday

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