May 18, 2010: A Civil Concoction

“Que sera sera, whatever will be – will be; the future’s not ours to see…” Ok…at this point, I have to stop quoting the old Doris Day song. Not ours to see? Really? As a matter of fact, it is. It’s ours to envision, ours to assimilate and ours to amend. But if were going to continue to wander around in a state of sheer unconsciousness while assuming it is all out of our control, and the only thing we can do is view it from afar and accept whatever happens, then we really can’t seize any of that opportunity for powerful and positive transition.

What will be? What are unquestionably obvious are the continuous immoral actions of incivility and the lack of integrity that we observe from sunrise to sundown each day. This society – our society – has settled to accept and to some degree, conform to these relentless acts of character assassination, deeply rooted cross identity difference, mass aggression and extreme epidemic of rudeness. The lack of civility and integrity amongst the young, and often the old, continue to run the gamut.

In Lafayette, Georgia, a student pulled an unloaded gun on another student in a dispute over a twinkie cake. At South Hadley High School in Western Massachusetts, a 15 year-old girl committed suicide after intense stalking, name calling, harassment, threatened physical abuse and relentless bullying from other high school “mean girls”, who even after her death, did not demonstrate any regret or remorse for their actions. Instead, they used Face Book to mock her death and continued badmouthing her around the school. A 40 year-old school teacher at a Charter School in Houston, Texas, has been fired and arrested for attacking and repeatedly hitting, kicking then banging a 13 year-old pupils head into the wall of a school bathroom – an incident where the remainder of the teachers and many of the students just stood around and watched.

NBA Star Dwayne Wade’s estranged wife is suing her husband’s girlfriend, Gabrielle Union, on behalf of her two sons – which leads me to question why she isn’t suing her husband instead – and – is dating while married the “new” level of commitment we’ve come to sanction? 51 year-old Football Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor was charged with raping and patronizing a 16 year-old prostitute. A man was angry at missing his flight connection and threw his suitcase at an eight-month pregnant airline employee. Or what about the story of the woman who learned that there was no sandwiches on her flight and punched the flight attendant and pushed her to the floor. A juvenile dance troupe consisting of 8 and 9 year old girls were praised at the World of Dance Competition by parents, and censured by media for performing a controversial and provocative dance to Beyonce’s, Single Ladies, while 17 year-old child star Miley Cyrus is defended by her father for giving lap dances. And the beat goes on and on and on, bearing witness to these behaviors in countless numbers of other public figures and regular folks alike.

Given all of the garbage and discourtesy that we have to contend with, exercising more civility and promoting integrity should be at the top of all our lists. Civility is about more than merely being polite; though being polite is an excellent starting point. A sense of morality fosters our highest level of integrity in how we respond in the world and how we view ourselves, our bodies and our minds. Our self-awareness is heightened when we employ true respect for others. Real civility takes into account the humanity of other people with whom we are engaged. It challenges us to embrace, change and connect.

Etiquette and good basic manners have tremendously declined beginning with a simple, “Hello” when you enter into a room or having a door held for you after someone else has just walked through it. We notice it on the highways when the other vehicle is trying to cut us off and at many times, literally run us off the road, and in customer service stations, where it appears that you are “disrupting” the cashiers day by being served. We certainly can choose and we can change.

Truthfully I know, sometimes it “appears” not hopeful because we are human. The promise of change often seems as far away as the stars in the sky. Being very candid as a youth etiquette and civility coach, from time to time I have to wonder if my work gives meaning – if anyone’s child is really paying attention in my class. I frequently have the opportunity to experience the lives of many young adults, from the very young to the very career driven; from the poised and polished to the highly unpredictable. Periodically, something miraculous happens. One student of many will express their level of gratitude on how I’ve made a difference in their life, how I’ve inspired them and how I’ve helped them to consider a new way of thinking, being, doing, speaking. They are grateful because I believed in them, and more importantly, because now – they can believe in themselves. While I take no credit for this divine intervention, I do take a moment to breathe. My heart silently fills with joy and my uncertainties become clear and made anew. Then, I am able to see how the smallest steps bring about the biggest results.

The way I see it, we are all travelers on the same spaceship. The earth beneath our feet is our Earth; it belongs to all of us. The air we breathe is common property too. Yet we spend so much time drawing distinctions, defending divisions, delineating differences, from countries to culture to skin color. We go bananas for borders and boundaries. That’s my property – that’s yours; this is my land – you keep out! An act of true civility though, requires compromise and collaboration; connection and change. We need to build bridges – not walls in our communities, and we need to concoct a strong ingredient for change – one that is civil and one that will grant us peace, prosperity and perseverance. We can rectify the acts of incivility in our world by starting with ourselves and by what we can change. We can serve as better examples for our young and seek advice from our elders who possess wisdom. We can modify the way we treat each other.

As of this year, The Association of Image Consultants International (AICI) has declared May as International Civility Awareness Month in an effort to increase the awareness on the decline of civility around the world. I am grateful for Yasmin Anderson-Smith, who chairs the Civility Counts Project Committee and authored an AICI white paper Civility Counts: An Image Perspective, sister friend and civility and etiquette professional based in Bowie, Maryland. She has positively affected the lives of many young girls and continues to assert the knowledge about the importance of civility throughout communities.

Yes, the future is ours to see – and to save. Choose Civility.

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