Monday, March 15, 2010

Old Fashioned Wisdom in a New Century

Over the weekend I was not feeling well so I read a lot. I finished three books (not long ones). Two were by P. M. Forni, a professor of literature at Johns Hopkins who has made his personal project to evangelize about civility. I'm glad he did, because I liked the books, although I am afraid only the already civil will read them. Perhaps not. I plan to put them on my reading list for a class I teach. The two books are The Civility Solution and Twenty-Five Rules for Civility.

Essentially, civility is about awareness of surroundings, whether physical or human; paying attention; and respect. I like that concept although I am often a failure myself. I did a lot of soul searching due to them.

The question remains, however, how a person like me, a college teacher, can "teach" civility. We can model it, and expect it, and talk about it, maybe even assess it. But whether we can transfer the attitudes about human dignity that are behind civility is another matter.

Are we less civil? We are less aware, due to media; we pay less attention, because we allow ourselves to be so distracted; and we do not respect people. We treat them respectfully from fear of litigation, but that's not the same thing. We are scared to death of lawsuits.

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