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The challenge of civility

Awareness days, weeks and months are a rapidly growing phenomenon in the modern world, a bid by groups with a special interest to flag down our fast-moving society for just a few moments to consider their cause.

They can be altruistic, as in World Food Day, observed by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization every Oct. 16 or National Soil Conservation Week celebrated last month. May 6 to 12 is International Compost Awareness Week. Or they can be whimsical, like National Pig Day, celebrated March 1 in the U.S., or World Penguin Day (April 25) coinciding with the flightless bird’s annual northward migration.

One event that caught our eye recently was a press release telling us the entire month of May is International Civility Month, complete with a day-by-day calendar featuring activities designed to promote more civility in the home, workplace and community.

It starts simply enough, with saying hello to five people in a day, smiling at others, and remembering to say “please” and “thank you.” Make eye contact, be kind, hold the door open for others, and be patient and don’t interrupt others when they are speaking.

Then it gets more complicated. Remember to replace empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls, cleaning up after yourself, avoiding profanity, turning your cellphone off during meetings and speaking positively when interacting with others.

It is notable that this declaration didn’t come from governments, which we suggest would benefit from heeding some of this “nice” advice, but rather from a private company that is cashing in on our culture’s appetite, yet increasing ineptitude when it comes to achieving a civil society.

Since 1999, Civility Experts has grown from a small 200-foot office focused on delivering dining etiquette workshops and running a Courtesy Camp, to a multinational company with 30 affiliates in 12 countries — teaching the stuff that used to be heaped out in small doses every day around the family dinner table or at the community hall.

And of course simply raising awareness does not in itself solve an issue. People must act on that awareness, a process that starts with accepting responsibility and determining their own ability to make things better.

We suspect that the fact that fewer families have time to gather for meals and that our increasingly urbanized society has created whole communities of strangers has had something to do with the decline of civility.

It is much easier to be rude to someone you never have to see again than to an individual who might one day be teaching your child in school or fixing your car.

It might also have something to do with the age of electronic communication, when technology makes it possible for one to carry out most of our affairs without ever having to look another human being in the eye. There is something to be said for an old-fashioned meeting with everyone in the room, and where a rousing debate under Robert’s Rules of Order is followed by a communal meal.

We would add these points to the civility challenge. It is much easier to dismiss someone’s alternative view if you are convinced by yourself or others that they are undeserving of your respect. This is accomplished through the use of labels, such as activists, environmentalists, left or right wing (nuts), or urbanites. It is a way of distancing oneself from the fact that the person with whom you disagree is actually a human being, with feelings, and a right to be heard, just like you.

Recent debates on important issues have been clouded repeatedly by such departures from civility.

In our view, it is entirely acceptable to disagree with another viewpoint, vociferously if you must. But as soon as that disagreement is underlaid with insinuations as to someone’s political leanings — be they left or right — or their character, you’ve crossed the line into a realm that makes civilized discourse virtually impossible. Disrespectful acts tend to boomerang. They create bitterness that leaves lasting scars. We are all poorer for it.

The farm beat has recently been filled with stories that remind us of why this is a good place to live.

There has been an outpouring of support for the Brunel family, whose Ste. Rose home burned to the ground while they were in Winnipeg getting leukemia treatments for their toddler son.

A young sister/brother duo in Russell were honoured for their fundraising towards reuniting immigrant families with their children, and a young Pilot Mound farmer who has been recognized for his business acumen, but whose outlook is liberally peppered with a commitment to community.

That’s the spirit that makes Manitoba strong.

About the author

Vice-President of Content

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at [email protected]



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