Civility — the politeness of friends, the professionalism of writers,
the courtesy of strangers, the decorum of politicians —
is not only an emotional thing.
It is not the heart on the sleeve of an amputee.
It is so much more than that. It is a white flag
on a battlefield packed with many centuries
of literal blood and bones —
This is not something we do out of fear or entitled laziness.
Civility’s message is twofold: on the front,
“I mean you no harm,” and on the back,
“I am *capable* of doing you no harm,”
— or at least, of doing less harm. Humans are dangerous creatures.
But that’s that point: if I am civil, then I am
in control of the machine-gun that I am: If you mishandle me,
I am not going to spray bullets at the crowd.
If I am civil, then I am looking for my biases
and willing to correct for them:
I am smart and determined enough to pick up the sword
of logic *and* to wield it unclumsily.
We can spar, says civility, and you don’t have to
worry about accidentally losing your head.
If you are smart, the only other course
besides civility is not to spar at all. And lack of sparring makes everyone weaker.
You, me, everyone.
So to grow stronger, in the real world, we must be civil.
Civility says, I can be a partner in your communications dance
I can be trusted to talk to your deepest self
and convince it of things
And not step on it, neither out of malice
nor ignorance of the importance of your deepest self (not just mine),
nor because I don’t know how to act any better.
I grant that you are a person, with rights and feelings
I recognize that you deserve agency, patience and second chances…
As do I.
I am safe, says civility. I respect both of our boundaries
without thinking either needs to be coddled:
I know how much of a punch I can take, and I will
be careful in finding out how much you can take, too.
I may not agree, and I will not throw matches,
but I will also not sweep the leg.
I can talk with you and think you’re wrong
But avoid aiming for the face.
I am civil. So when we’re done here, we can both walk away
maybe bruised but unharmed, and ready —
better, even —
to fight tomorrow.