Civility: formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech, reasonable and respectful behavior. Civilities: polite actions and words.
Is it possible that civility is destroying our society?
Has civility become a mask that far too many wear to get close enough to a perceived enemy in order to deliver the fatal blow, the final stab?
One can barely go a moment without feeling the sting of hatred and fear these days. Sadly, this hate often comes from the least expected of places. The tongues spreading this dis-ease are ones that we often had come to know as kind and polite. They sometimes belong to people that we learned to trust, because of an appearance of civility.
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We have been taught since birth to believe that behind a smile and a kind word, one would also, automatically, find a kind being.
This very simple, innate and core belief can topple a nation or destroy a relationship.
Civility is like the Trojan Horse, which Wikipedia defines as “a trick that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or place.”
I would also add a home or a heart.
When our family moved to Durham I was quickly taught that the old sweet Southern saying “well bless their heart” was not nearly the sugary and honest gesture I had believed it to be.
When we moved into our new home, the same, seemingly friendly, polite and courteous neighbors that had welcomed this same-gendered couple were the same neighbors that posted signs in their yard that promoted laws and policies that would directly hurt these same, welcomed neighbors.
Now please understand that I am in no way saying they are not entitled to their beliefs. What I am saying is that they are not entitled to hide their hatred behind a false and disingenuous mask of civility.
Our politicians are masters of that deceit. They ingratiate themselves with words that steer the flock just in order to gain a vote, and then when we finally relax, feeling secure, the Horse is opened and our lives and rights are stripped away – but only if we continue to let them.
If we lead with candor rather than politeness, whichever side that truth falls on, we would have a far more honest dialogue. We would begin at a point of truth rather than waiting for it to finally reveal itself. Those precious moments, communicating from real honesty, are all too often lost in the ugly act of feigning acceptance by acting civil.
My husband and I are raising two boys. When our oldest joined our family via the foster care system, he had just turned 6 and had been taught to act very politely.
Saying yes sir and no sir was as natural to him as breathing. He gave everyone and anyone he met the kind of hug and you would only expect to receive after much time together had passed.
Perhaps acting courteous and friendly was how he learned that he could be adopted, how a family’s door would open to welcome him in.
Respect is important to me but not necessarily the words associated with them. We immediately let him know that he did not have to call his new daddies sir. I can take being called any number of things from a genuine tongue over an insincere politeness any day.
Beneath that little boy’s gentile and loving exterior was a very scared and angry little being. Allowing him to stop acting civil and begin feeling his truth was how our real relationship began.
It is also the only way he will ever begin to heal.
And so it can be with our community.
Not accepting civility and politeness as the be all and end all, and instead expecting one’s face value to be honest is how powerful dialogue can really begin.
Feel what you feel toward people of different colors or sexual orientations or gender identities. Be truthful and walk your path, yet hopefully walk with an openness to other possibilities and views.
Like with our little boy, allowing his fear and anger to rise to the surface was the only way we could really see each other for who and what we really were.
From that point of realness we can learn, observe and correct.
That is the only space where change and growth can occur, and I believe we could all use a little.
Henry Amador-Batten lives in Durham. He and his husband are the founders of DADsquared (www.dadsquared.org/), offering support and resources to gay fathers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org