Our world feels like it’s on the brink.
With each terrorist attack or public shooting, we see violence toward human beings.
I don’t know if we are more predisposed to violence than we have been in the past.
I suspect we are not.
I’m sure I could find data that would show this is the most violent period in the history of the world.
I’m sure I could find data that would show the world is better off now than it has been at any time in the history of the human race.
My perception comes from my experience.
My perception is we have a whole lot of ways of being uncivil to each other.
Before the violence occurs, our civility slips away.
The pastor at my church wants to stop public shootings.
Not by passing stricter gun laws.
Instead, his focus in on teaching civility. It’s his BHAG for 2016. I included a video of him explaining it. Start at 14:25 to see the part about teaching civility.
What is civility?
Civility is the collection of conventions people have among themselves that makes it possible for them to live together in large groups.
Even though we have been living in civilizations for thousands of years, we still need to be taught civility.
It seems as though we have forgotten some of the basic conventions.
For me, the conventions of civility have another name:
Good Ol’ Fashioned Manners
What does the word “manners” mean?
Dictionary.com defines it as “the prevailing customs, ways of living, and habits of a people, class, period.”
A manner is an action acceptable to the rest of the people living in a civilization. It means acting in a manner that is civil to the others in the group.
Somewhere along the way, manners have slipped away.
Not the ones like putting your napkin on your lap or knowing on which side the fork should be placed.
Not the gender-specific ones like letting women go first or holding the door or pulling out a chair for a lady. Those are remembrances of a chivalrous time, but not the manners required to restore our civility.
Say thank you.
Hold the door for anyone.
Let someone go first.
Wait your turn.
Of course, remembering our manners is no guarantee we’ll stop violence .
But before someone started down the path of violence, there was a beginning when they began to look at people with contempt.
Maybe the path started with religious fanaticism or mental illness, but at some point, the person stopped seeing other people as worthy of life.
Maybe people stopped greeting them with a simple hello.
Maybe people stopped offering to let them go first in line.
Maybe people started cutting them off in traffic because it was more important for them to be on time than to be courteous.
And as easily as it started, it could stop.
Maybe a simple “thanks” to the person who helped you will bring him back from the verge of snapping.
The simple act of holding the door for someone who has reached the breaking point with her colleagues may restore her faith in humanity.
You can’t measure the effect of manners on the civility of the world.
You never know who the person might be. If your manners make a difference, you’ll never know your small act changed the world.
But why not take the chance?
The best thing about manners is using them is free.
Learning them is free. Someone has to teach them, beyond that, there is no cost.
They are like muscles. We have to use them to make them stronger.
In the process of exercising our manner muscles, maybe we stop a public shooting.
Or maybe we make someone a little happier.
Maybe we make ourselves a little happier.
Those small acts of happiness multiply, and maybe we can be civil to each other again.