Two Unrelated Items Serendipitously Linked:
1. Last week's staff meeting left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable & uneasy. A colleague threw out a general plea to the more senior staff for some sage advice and an experienced critique of her new project.
Instead of enthusiasm, encouragement, and offers of one-on-one help, she got unintentional-yet-dismissive advice, "Go online and take a look at how it's done." "There are on-line books and manuals to teach you how to do that." Right! Thanks, a lot! Just what you want to hear, "Read the manual."
2. Right after work I happened to read the Most Popular E-Mailed Article in the New York Times for the day: David Brooks', In Search of Dignity. Brooks' subject is about the downward drift of dignity in today's politicians & celebrities--the Mark Sanfords, Sarah Palins, & Michael Jacksons--and yes, all the rest of us.
Civility has hit the skids. Manners and morals are history. And it's all about ME these days.
Brooks holds George Washington up as our civility maven--our country's standard bearer. You see, George methodically worked on making himself a better person. Trust me--this is no small feat.
"When George Washington was a young man, he copied
out a list of 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and
Conversation.” ( Click here for a look at George Washington's 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior.) Some of the rules in his list dealt with the niceties of
going to a dinner party or meeting somebody on the street.
They were designed to improve inner morals by shaping the outward man. Washington took them very seriously. He worked hard to follow them. Throughout his life, he remained acutely conscious of his own rectitude. In so doing, he turned himself into a new kind of hero.
But the dignity code itself has been completely obliterated. The rules that guided Washington and generations of people after him are simply gone.
We are all encouraged to become managers of our own brand, to do
self-promoting end zone dances to broadcast our own talents. Second,
there is the cult of naturalism. We are all encouraged to discard
artifice and repression and to instead liberate our own feelings."
Who doesn't need a kick in the pants to remind us about the simple rules of civility that have been around in one form or another for thousands of years, appearing in the texts of all religions, from Judaism and Christianity to Confucianism and Hinduism, from Victorian books of manners, to philosophers from Plato to Kant? Goodness knows, I do!
But wait--P.M. Forni, started the Johns Hopkins Civility Project back in 1997 & he has made it his personal mission to compile a quintessential readable rulebook on being nice without being a doormat.
I adored this book when I first read it seven years ago, and I'm still a fan now that I've rediscovered it tucked away on my book shelf--thanks to getting a kick in the pants from David Brooks last week.
P. M. Forni's wise-slim-witty-practical book, Choosing Civility came out in 2002. It was adopted by cities, and schools & organizations. But I haven't heard much about it lately. That's too bad, because it's a gem--worth dipping back into often.
This book isn't sugar-coated fluff. It's practical advice for just plain improving our day-to-day contact with everyone we encounter at work, at home & in our daily lives--including everyone that makes us want to scream or tear our hair out--like inconsiderate drivers, obnoxious loudmouths, and rude sales clerks.
So, here's the Cliff's Notes version. The bare bones. The book is so much better!
The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct
1. Pay Attention
"A human moment occurs anytime two or more people are together, paying attention to one another." -Edward M. Hallowell-
"Every act of kindness is, first of all, an act of attention. We may see a coworker in need of a word of encouragement, but it is only if we pay attention that we may do something about it." -P.M. Forni-
"A car in trying to join the traffic flow from the parking lot to my right. Since the traffic is bumper-to-bumper, if everybody thinks of that car as just another car, its driver will be stuck forever. I slow down to let him in ahead of me." -P.M. Forni-
2. Acknowledge Others
"Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present." -George Washington-
"Acknowledge others' existence, their importance to you, their feelings, and the things they do for you. Remembering someone's name--paying a thoughtful compliment--just saying hello..." -P.M. Forni-
3. Think the Best
"There is no doubt that thinking the best of others can boost the quality of your life. Among other things, it will help you establish rapport with many people who otherwise would remain strangers." -P.M. Forni-
"Look for the best in everybody. If you wait long enough, people will surprise & impress you." -Randy Pausch-
"Much of the conflict in our lives can be explained by one simple but unhappy fact: We don't really listen to each other." -Michael P. Nichols-
"What prevents us from doing a good job of listening is that instead of focusing on other people, we focus on ourselves and our needs. This is what we do, for instance, when we interrupt." -P.M. Forni-
5. Be Inclusive
"The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manners for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in heaven, where there is no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another." -George Bernard Shaw-
"Try speaking and listening to somebody you never liked." -P.M. Forni-
"One of our strongest yearnings is to be accepted by others. We love being welcomed by individuals, and we delight in the feeling of belonging to a group. Thus attitudes and words that exclude rather than include are rarely funny. In most cases they hurt." -P.M. Forni-
6. Speak Kindly
"A word of kindness is seldom spoken in vain, while witty sayings are as easily lost as the pearls slipping from a broken string." -George Prentice-
"Speaking with consideration and kindness is at the heart of civil behavior. To speak kindly you need to be aware constantly that you are speaking to living, breathing, vulnerable human beings." -P.M. Forni-
7. Don't Speak Ill
"Nobody ever gossips about other people's secret virtues." -Bertrand Russell-
"Don't discount the power of your words. The thought that they might hurt or discomfort should inform every conversation. By speaking with kindness you improve the lives of those around you." -P.M. Forni-
"By and large, the first, the important, the defining thing we want to know about our fellow humans is whether they are nice." -P.M. Forni-
8. Accept and Give Praise
"The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated." -William James-
"By saying, "What you are doing is wonderful," we encourage those who are doing the wonderful thing to keep doing it. Maybe in a small way, we become responsible for the continued existence of something wonderful." -P.M. Forni-
9. Respect Even a Subtle "No"
"The stranger sitting beside you on the plane is paying more attention to his or her laptop than your attempts to start a conversation--that's a No." -P.M. Forni-
"We frequently fail to understand or choose to ignore signs of reluctance in others. When that happens, we end up making others do what they would rather not or we force them to flat out say, "No," upsetting them in the process. This is not civil." -P.M. Forni-
10. Respect Others' Opinions
"Among the most civil utterances of all time is the simple, humble, and smart question, "What do you think?" Let's use it generously." -P.M. Forni-
"There are at least two ways of showing disrespect for others on account of what they think. One is by telling them that their opinions are crazy, stupid, worthless, and the like. The other is by assuming that what we think must be what they think also." -P.M. Forni-
11. Mind Your Body
"The idea is to attract, not repel." -Peggy & Peter Post-
12. Be Agreeable
There are two fundamental abilities to cultivate in order to be agreeable in conversation:
- The ability to consider that you might be wrong.
- The ability to admit that you don't know. -P.M.Forni-
13. Keep It Down (and Rediscover Silence)
"Many people believe that constant noise is normal" -Judith Martin-
14. Respect Other People's Time
Punctuality is non-negotiable! -P.M. Forni-
"Call waiting titillates the basest of impulses--greed and opportunism. It plays on our anxiety--the nasty little need to know what or who might be better than what we've got now." -Lynne Sharon Schwartz-
15. Respect Other People's Space
"Come not near the books or writing (or computer screen) of another so as to read them unless desired; also look not nigh when another is writing a letter (or an email)." -George Washington-
16. Apologize Earnestly
"Most apologies are gestures of empathy; they express regret for offending someone else's feelings or concerns. Apologizing implies that you are aware of the feelings of another and can empathize sufficiently to regret have injured that person." -Daniel Jankelovich-
"Apologizing is a decent thing to do, but it is not true that the more we do it the better human beings we are. As we become more aware of the needs of others and more willing to honor them, we find ourselves apologizing less frequently." -P.M. Forni-
17. Assert Yourself
"Wanting to please others is a noble sentiment at the root of civility and an indispensable ingredient in happy relationships. However, just as crucial for our happiness is the ability to establish firm personal boundaries." -P.M. Forni-
18. Avoid Personal Questions
"Taboo questions continue to make the rounds, kept in business by our inexhaustible curiosity about the business of others. Religion, politics, health, money, personal relationships, and physical appearance--forget about it!" -P.M. Forni-
19. Care for Your Guests
"To entertain a guest is to make yourself responsible for his happiness." -Anthelme Brillat-Savarin-
"An essential goal of playing host is that of getting to know your guests better and strengthening your mutual bonds. To do that you only need to listen and talk from the heart." -P.M. Forni-
20. Be a Considerate Guest
"When invited to a dinner or a party, respect both times of arrival and departure. Don't overstay your welcome, but don't leave too soon. Rely on common sense and your hosts' cue. -P.M. Forni-
21. Think Twice Before Asking for Favors
"Don't ask for favors too casually or too often--recognize the amount of effort you're requesting. If possible, accomplish your task in some other way...Be clearly grateful for a favor done. Even if the task appeared easy for the person, give full credit--the person may be keeping the difficulties or unpleasantness of the effort from you." -Janet Gallant-
22. Refrain from Idle Complaints
"What concerns me is the continuous or recurring complaining that is an unwarranted spreading of misery. It is the kind that bespeaks helplessness rather than assertiveness, is more interested in assigning blame than in finding solutions, and is rooted in the feeling that life is unfair." -P.M. Forni-
23. Accept and Give Constructive Criticism
"It's almost impossible not to enjoy the sense of validation that comes with praise, but it is criticism that makes us learn what we are unable or unwilling to learn by ourselves. Whenever we turn our back on good criticism we do so at our own peril." -P.M. Forni-
24. Respect the Environment and Be Gentle to Animals
"We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." -Native American saying-
25. Don't Shift Responsibility and Blame
"I simply cannot conceive of any circumstance in our daily lives when it would be appropriate or advantageous to be rude or boorish. The powerful combination of self-respect and respect for others should make it almost impossible for us to choose incivility, if we manage to remain clearheaded even in challenging situations." -P.M.Forni-