Reclaiming Civility

Civility seems like an old-fashioned term and people reminisce about the good ol’ days that were so much simpler and genteel than today’s world. There is some truth to that. As we watch the presidential debates, we see very little civility. Yet, if we were to look back at previous presidential debates, we’d see just as much attacking going on, but the languaging of it was more oratorical rather than blatant bludgeoning. If attacking or condemning in polished dialogue is considered civil, then we need to redefine this thing called civility.

Before we find a way to true civility, what is civility? Is it saying nice things yet meaning something else? Is it using proper grammar and language? Is civility helping others when they’re in need or just them helping you when you’re in need? Does civility have a dress code? Is civility based on rituals dictated by so-called manners and social conventions? Is your civility the same as mine or your neighbors or other countries and cultures? Is civility defined differently by gender? Is civility an excuse for weakness or is it a strength — as in “Real men aren’t civil”? 

Can civility be forced or regulated? We can institute all the laws in the world and it still won’t bring about civility. Thanks to our legal system that brings the First Amendment into the fray, they’ll let you throw garbage instead of civil language. We can’t teach civility in our schools and colleges as we have already vested them in monetary gains and “What’s in it for me?” thinking rather than civility. And if you think you can learn civility in our religious institutions, think again, as they are all vested in exclusivity, segregation, and power through the use of greed and fear.

What would be another word for civility? Compassion? Graciousness? Respectfulness? These are good choices, yet we find them also missing in today’s discourse at all levels of society and in every arena. Communication has deteriorated to the point that our general vocabulary has shrunk and we would rather text someone rather than talk to them on the phone, much less in person.

The world, though, is crying out for civility in the form of recognition of our very being. We long for connection, to be acknowledged, to be accepted, and to be understood. How do we bring that about?

Just like darkness can’t be removed without the presence of light, civility cannot be practiced or even understood without first knowing and understanding who we truly are. I’m not referring to gender, race, color, education, nationality, heritage, ancestry, titles, awards, or position in society. So who are you?

Are we our human bodies and the information stored in our brains? If we limit our understanding of ourselves to that dimension, we will forever be confused, divided, and extremely limited in our understanding of what is right, what is wrong, and what is civil. The problem is that our so-called “brain,” what I call our data-gathering instrument, has very limited capability. It gathers information with the help of our five senses, which are only able to gather incomplete information at best and, at worst, this information gets contaminated with our insecurities, fear, greed, and ego. Therefore, all the information that is gathered by us is not only incomplete, but also erroneous. Is it any wonder that all our so-called rights and wrongs are so different?

Based on the information gathered in our brain through our life-long experiences — our history, mythology, technology, or even through 1,000 PhDs in every possible subject — we will still fall short in understanding what is civil and what is not or, overall, what is right and what is wrong…until we discover who we truly are.

You are not the human body that hosts you, neither are you the knowledge or title that decorates you; you are definitely not the color or race or nationality that defines you.

Are you ready to unveil the truth about your real being?

You are the power that enlivens you and integrates you with the universe to the extent that every thought, action, and endeavor you undertake affects everyone else, even though they are thousands of miles away. Conversely, every thought and endeavor of someone thousands of miles away affects you. You think you are a separate entity? Think again because you are an integral part of everyone else in this universe. So what is civility in this new realization?

  • You cannot be rude to others without being rude to yourself.
  • You cannot abuse others without abusing yourself.
  • You cannot criticize others without criticizing yourself.
  • You cannot undermine others without undermining yourself.
  • You cannot harm others without harming yourself.
  • You cannot cheat others without cheating yourself.

And similarly…

  • You cannot be fair to others without being fair to yourself first.
  • You cannot be kind to others without being kind to yourself first.
  • You cannot be honest to others without being honest to yourself first.
  • You cannot be generous to others without being generous to yourself first.
  • You cannot be respectful to others without being respectful to yourself first.
  • Ultimately, you cannot make others happy without being happy within yourself first.

So isn’t it fair to conclude that your civility to others is merely a reflection of how civil you are to yourself? Take my advice and be fair, kind, honest, generous, and respectful to yourself — and just maybe, you will be able to gift this society with a real, civilized human being, and in the process, it may nurture your inner happiness.

By: Ratanjit S. Sondhe

Internationally renowned as Mr. Stress-Free, Ratanjit S. Sondhe is a professional speaker, author, radio and television personality, consultant, and was the founder and 34-year CEO of a material science company recently acquired by The Dow Chemical Company. He credits all of his worldly success and good fortune to realizing his place in the universe and unconditionally adding value to the bigger one - our society.

Originally posted on Apr 25, 2016.