Friday, November 02, 2007

You'll choose civility, and you'll LIKE it!

Having seen many a vehicle with the top bumper sticker (thanks to , how can I oppose a campaign to usher in civility? Well, for starters, if the Calvert and Centre Street Democratic Club Baltimore Sun gushes about it, it can't be much worth supporting.

Frankly, as I examine the site of the man behind the "civility" movement, Johns Hopkins professor P.M. Forni, I believe that the man is sincere in what he wants to accomplish. Surely I know folks that have been rude or offensive to me, and I've probably been that as well to someone else. I can stand to improve in that regard.

That being said, first of all, I think Howard County (one of the wealthiest in the U.S., BTW, and one in which I lived briefly before getting married) is trivializing and politicizing Forni's work. The message that gets sent to others becomes: "I'm civil, and you're not. Why? Because I have a bumper sticker that says so, that's why." Dr. Seuss wrote a book about that called The Sneetches. And check out who backs this initiative.

The very sticker above is an oxymoron. It almost seems to say, "Choose civility . . . or else!" I'd love to see this sticker on one side of a car with, for example, "Well-behaved women rarely make history" on the other side.

Then again, this one from the site of the same name might be fitting:

It's as if civility is being rammed down one's throat like, well, diversity. And the planned community of Columbia was founded 40 years ago in the name of imposed Utopian diversity that has yielded mixed results. Ask any longtime Howard County resident who doesn't live in Columbia what they think of when they hear the name James Rouse, and see the most uncivil reaction you'll likely get.

I do have problems with some of Forni's recipe for civility. For example, one of his 25 rules is to "be inclusive." Inclusive of what? We are all exclusive to some degree or another. Do we always get invited to every social function? Do we always want everyone else involved? Is inclusion really a virtue that should be achieved? Look at how "inclusive language" has dumbed down liturgical music at Mass! One of the worst summer vacations I ever had was when we had a "come one, come all" group of guys at a house in Cape Hatteras. (Well, that was the vacation during which I started dating Ladycub, so it couldn't have been THAT bad!)

"Respect even a subtle 'no.'" If we're talking about sex out of marriage, I'm all for that. But what about when men pursue women? How many relationships and marriages grew out of men's persistence after being turned down? Why isn't "don't give up" one of the rules?

There seems to be no room for disagreement in these principles. I wonder if this isn't a subtle way for those who espouse "Choose Civility" to say "shut up" to those who don't, but in a way that makes it seem like a compliment. I guess, for example, the colonists should have just respected George III and been done with it. Now pardon me while I fix my bangers and mash. And Rosa Parks would have done much better to sit in her proper place in the back of the bus, with much civility . . . right?

I think Forni ought to add a 26th rule, one that seems to work well for Alcoholics Anonymous:

"Don't take yourself so damn seriously."

Or this might be an even better one to live by. As MASH psychiatrist Sidney Freedman put it:

"Ladies and gentlemen,
take my advice:
Pull down your pants
and slide on the ice."


Bigbro said...

Choose Civility in Howard County...but feel free to cross the county line and be as uncivil as you'd like.

Dymphna (4HisChurch) said...

Yeah, there is something a little "off" about adding "in Howard County" to that!

Anonymous said...

I'm certainly no conservative catholic, but I too have a major problem with it. First and foremost, the concept of civility has for centuries been used to promote a sense of social Darwinism, and was/is used to maintain absurd notions of race, and formerly slavery in the United States.

Utterly fascinating, and ironic that a concept used for exclusionary purposes, and as a means to identify one's self as better than others, is not being used to promote specific behaviors in a modern society. WEIRD

Kathryn said...

Awesome. I found your blog looking for an image of the sticker online, because I just wrote my own rant along the same lines.

Anonymous said...

You lost me when you said you believe the man (Forni) is sincere.