The cry for civility is sweeping our land—due in part to acts of incivility played out hourly on television, in sports, online, and in our government. These uncivil acts spread like wildfire through social media, repeated again and again until they are seared into our memory. Even when apologies have been delivered and accepted, the tarnished reputation of the offender may never fully recover. As much as we talk about civility, I find few who can accurately define it. Interestingly, there seems to be no shortage of those who are able to describe acts of incivility in great personal detail.
People Less Civil?
Have we become less civil? Studies seem to support that we have. A recent study revealed that eighty percent of people believe incivility is a real problem. Ninety-six percent said they have experienced incivility at work, resulting in high levels of stress. In their book, The Cost of Bad Behavior – How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, Christine Pearson and Christine Porath note that the annual cost of job stress to U.S. corporations is $300 billion dollars. Furthermore, acts of incivility in our schools create high levels of stress for our children. What is the impact on their education, their health, and their self-esteem? Pearson and Porath also note that ninety-four percent of those who are treated uncivilly by others will look for opportunities to get even with the offenders.
How are acts of incivility demonstrated? There are the blatant outbursts of rude acts that we all have witnessed, but most uncivil acts are delivered under the radar—through tone of voice and body language. Typically, only the offended, and sometimes those nearby, detect the cutting act. The offender exercises his or her position of power over the individual or situation and uses rude comments or acts to intimidate and control.
Here are 6 areas for you to evaluate. Would you respond always, sometimes, or never?
- I return the shopping cart to the designated area.
- I avoid using my cell phone to talk, text, or surf when with others.
- I RSVP promptly when invited to an event.
- I arrive on time for meetings and events.
- I monitor my tone and word choice in all communications.
- I express gratitude to others by saying thank you.
Where Civility Begins
Civility begins with the individual. Choosing civility in daily life requires character, confidence, and class. Since most incivility is demonstrated through tone of voice and body language, carefully consider your words and how you will deliver them before you speak. Speaking without thinking often ends with regret. It is always best to avoid interacting with others if you are emotionally charged. Those who are able to control their tongue are less likely to offend. As we have seen in the media, once branded as being uncivil, it is nearly impossible to be remembered for much else.
As an individual, family, school, business and community, it should be our highest priority to promote civility. A civil environment enhances life for everyone emotionally, physically, and financially. Civility education should be provided in our schools and businesses. Acts of civility should be rewarded, and consequences for incivility should be standard. No one benefits when someone is treated in a rude manner. A healthy society requires every person be treated with respect.
“Character can be defined by doing what is right when nobody is looking.” –J.C. Watts, former US Congressman
The Power of Civility Co-author Deborah King was selected as one of North America’s civility thought leaders. Her chapter: ‘Civility Begins at Home’.
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