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“World Civility Day” vying to return era of politeness, manners

By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader

Call me old school, but I still believe in men opening doors for ladies, pulling out chairs, helping with coats, offering seats if women are standing nearby, maintaining respectful conversation, and shunning any rationale for verbal, psychological or physical abuse.

Much of the friction in America today is the direct result of the absence of common courtesy and the lack of basic consideration for one another.

Incivility is not limited to extreme racial bigotry, oppressive misogyny, homophobia, anti-semitism, xenophobia, abuse of the mentally or physically challenged or blatant bigotry.  The nation’s pervasive lack of civility is manifest in every race, age, income, education, religion, nationality, political persuasion, and sexual preference.

Now many so-called celebrities get a pass because fans give license for stars to behave badly in situations in which the average person would be roundly condemned. The fact is that a rude rock star, athlete, elected official or tycoon has no more right to a callous or dismissive demeanor than anyone else.

Even good people occasionally get caught up in negativity. The highway driver so frustrated at the move of the motorist in the next lane that he gives them “the finger” is out of control. What would it cost someone to let the person flashing his turn signal into the lane in front of you? Why is that such a personal affront?

It is increasingly difficult to get service any more, even when paying folks who rely on tips for survival. Earnings is obviously not motivation enough for some to show courtesy.

On the streets, some people will not even return salutation. How hard is it to return a “hello” or “good morning?” Similarly polite phrases like “excuse me,” “please,” “thank you” and “sorry” are virtually extinct expressions.

Couples quarrel. Neighbors are at each other’s throat. Backbiting colleagues make the workplace experience dreadful.

Children increasingly suffer depression, anxiety and feelings of suicide because of pervasive bullying and peer pressure. Even in the absence of covert discrimination, society makes too many feel too little self-esteem.

Long-time activist and public official Chuck Hughes, executive director of the Gary Chamber of Commerce, noted the problem worsening several years ago and decided to become more than a casual observer. He teamed with Dr. Gordon E. Bradshaw, President and Founder of iChange Nations, to launch World Civility Day.

“Being aware of what’s going on in the world with the acrimony at the highest level of our government and constant conflict in the streets, it was time to address the problem straightforward,” Hughes commented. In addition to workshops to explore more amicable conflict resolution and congeniality best practices – as individuals and as a society – the program has initiated a curriculum to help children learn to treat one another better.

World Civility Day is not a panacea, Hughes acknowledges, but it is an effective awareness campaign and organizers can already feel the impact.

The Gary Chamber of Commerce announced this week that one of the featured speakers for our 3rd Annual World Civility Day, is Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, an organization that works to reduce political dysfunction and incivility in our political system. As a leader in the field of deliberative democracy, she works to restore our democracy to reflect the intended vision of our founding fathers.

Dr. Lukensmeyer previously served as Founder and President of AmericaSpeaks, an award-winning nonprofit organization that promoted nonpartisan initiatives to engage citizens and leaders through the development of innovative public policy tools and strategies.

Perhaps World Civility Day is best summed up by U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, who this week congratulated Hughes and Dr. Bradshaw from the floor of the House of Representatives saying:

“This is a day to become more aware of our behavior toward others and to think about how we can bring more understanding back into our lives and the lives of others.

“We live in a time when we can all benefit from being a little more civil; when a kind gesture can help create a just and tolerant society.  I ask my colleagues to consider what we can do on World Civility Day and every day, in doing our part to bring back a little more empathy into our world.”

Maybe that important Rep. Visclosky message will eventually resonate on both sides and in the White House. But we can’t wait. We need the spirit of next Thursday, April 12th to be sustained the rest of the year in Chicago, Northwest Indiana, and Indianapolis and around the world.

Civility must become an expectation – not an option – for every man, woman and child.

For ticket information, contact the World Civility Day events, or the Gary Chamber of Commerce.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION  by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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