Deep Thoughts,  Regency Etiquette

Where Has All the Civility Gone?

One of the truest signs of maturity is the ability to disagree with someone while still remaining respectful.

Dave Willis
The Gallant Suitor, by Edmund Blair Leighton

I think it’s sad that a man nowadays has to think twice before opening a door for a woman. The poor guy just wants to be nice but he also doesn’t want to make her feel less than she is, and society has taught him to fear that the act of opening a door might make her think he thinks she’s too weak to do it herself. So he either dithers for a bit and misses the chance—because she has been taught that if she doesn’t assert herself then she will be thought to be weak, and therefore opens the door herself—or risks reputation and possibly limb and opens the door for her.

I make sure to warmly thank anyone—male or female, adult or child—who opens a door for me, even if I was fully capable of doing it myself, because I choose to believe that they simply want to make my day a little smoother and a little brighter.

How unfair is it that we’ve made it so hard to show civility? What do we think we can accomplish by stamping out this centuries-old virtue? Recent events have proven that without civility, we become inflamed and divided, and then we are nothing but weak. It’s very sad, because civility is such a simple thing. It is simple, and yet it takes self-control and determination; it is hard, and we’ve become a society that thinks it does not need to do hard things.

One of the great portrayals in historical literature of the ability to conduct oneself civilly is in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, when Fantine verbally abuses and spits on Jean Valjean, whose reaction is to calmly wipe the spittle from his face and request her release from jail. Now, these were two good people in extraordinary circumstances, but I would argue that ninety percent of all disagreements, heated or otherwise, are between good people who otherwise would be perfectly able to act with civility were they not under the influence of some worry or stress or pain. All that is missing is the determination to treat others as you want to be treated—to see humanity in your opponent despite the challenges you, personally, are experiencing, and to rise above yourself to make the situation better.

This little piece of the puzzle—civility—is not weakness, as some people have claimed. It is when we go without civility that we are weak. Without civility, people grow lazy in their own selfishness and cease to strive for the common good. Without civility, whole societies fracture and fall, and humanity suffers. Civility is an atmosphere that shields us from our own destructive influences, making us strong.

We simply cannot close our eyes to the need for civility.