Toward a More Civil Society
More votes with politeness?
Getting jostled on public transportation or fighting for some order on the streets as a pedestrian seems to be an everyday stressor given the advent of our electronic age. The iPod headphone-wearers (going deaf) or the incessant text-messagers who fail to exhibit courtesy and to acknowledge that they must share human existence with others create an atmosphere of fight or flight and indeed erode the health of others subject to their rudeness, creating a “sick society.”
Though not a big fan of Oprah, I happened on a show in the wee hours of the morning that gave me pause. Dr. P.M. Forni, co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project and author of The Civility Solution, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct, and The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude, says that living a civil life can improve your health. According to Forni, everyone can improve the quality of her relationships and her life by choosing to be more considerate, courteous, and polite.
“The quality of our lives is about treating each other well in every situation. We are the trustees of one another’s happiness and well-being in life,” he explained.
Three basic rules of being a considerate person are: 1. Paying attention to others and your surroundings –- appropriate conduct; 2. Acknowledging others –- remembering a name, holding a door for a stranger, welcoming, thanking, saying hello; and 3. Thinking the best of others –- expect good until or unless evidence shows otherwise.
But, modern society is structured in a way that actually amplifies and encourages incivility, says Forni. “We are stressed, we are fatigued, and we are in an anonymous environment. Stress and anonymity are two very, very common causes of rudeness. Especially when they are together, like in traffic.” (Picture an iPod headphone-wearer in a rush, oblivious to a line in a store, brushing past everyone without so much as a grunt to indicate awareness of others, or an inattentive text-messaging fanatic holding up foot traffic in a busy crosswalk competing with turning cars.)
Forni uses a quote for his Civility Solution from motivational speaker Peggy Tabor Millin –- “We never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace” -– to illustrate the idea of respectful persons.”
“The principle of respectful persons is the principle upon which all ethical systems have been based from the beginning of humanity, since certainly that last 2,000 years,” says Forni. “[It] says that we ought to treat others as ends in themselves rather than as beings for the satisfaction of our own immediate needs and desires.”
Dr. Forni’s discussion on civility got me thinking about how people go about campaigning. Many people only want to talk to people who readily agree. They don’t take the time to learn about another’s experiences and background and way of thinking. That is no way to convince someone to consider your point of view.
As an attorney, I have been trained to get into another person’s brain, most often the opposing counsel, the Respondent, or the judge. Only after studying someone’s background and demeanor, can you respond well and communicate well.
Preparation and respect are keys to winning an argument or a campaign.
Are you credible? How many people are so absorbed on an emotional level about a candidate or a proposition that they fail to study the many facets of an issue or argument? I have encountered many canvassers who become belligerent when I ask questions about their position. A credible canvasser will have studied opposing arguments and have thought of countering those arguments.
Do you show genuine interest in the other person? Too many times, I have been at the other end of monotone, robotic scripted messages read by a disinterested phone banker or worse yet, a canvasser reading a message without making eye contact.
Particularly among the under-thirty crowd, face-to-face conversations seem to mean face-to-hand held electronic device. Be respectful of another’s time. Be direct and concise, but be open with your time to explain, if necessary. If you have a message, you are more convincing if you notice something about that other person. Is this person a parent with a young child? Link that into your message, if appropriate. Is your candidate focused on public education or children’s issues? Does the proposition improve a particular situation that the person can relate to? If this person has questions, are you prepared to have a respectful, meaningful dialogue or are you singularly focused with the attitude “my way or the highway.”
Smile and remember to thank the person for her time.
A little kindness goes a long way. My mother often says when encountering people we find difficult, “Kill your enemies with kindness.” I’ve done that and a lot more with kindness; it’s a winning ingredient in the courtroom and in life. . . and I won’t look like a stressed, worn-out litigator.