“We seem to be losing touch with civility and becoming increasingly self-absorbed and antisocial. Ironically, social media has allowed us greater communication with one another than ever before. No matter where we are in the world we can remain in contact with friends and family. Yet this connection is an isolated experience, lacking in true human connection. Walking along the busy street, it is rare to make eye contact with others. Sadly, people focus on their cellphones, texting and looking up briefly to ensure they are getting to where they need to be. Although virtual communication has its benefit, it has come at a great cost. As a whole, we no longer pay attention to the needs of others. Therefore, meaningful interactions are rarely possible. However, when one pays attention to civility, by focusing on the needs of others before one’s self it is reassuring to see the positive effect it has on individuals. As technology took over we too have become victims of its force.
“Our Grade 7 class has taken time to reflect on what our world might look like if we chose civility. We hope you will enjoy our dramatization of this topic.”
With that introduction and invitation, I settled into my front row seat at the Prince Charles Theatre on Monday to see Tanya Poznikoff’s Grade 7 Adam Robertson Elementary School class present its view on civility in today’s world. I could hardly have not attended. My newspaper coverage last November after attending the class’s dress rehearsal of its Remembrance Day play (photos here) was a hit with the students. Some said it was the highlight of their school year. Last week, Tanya gave me a heads up about this Focus on Youth presentation. Some of the students have asked if the newspaper guy is going to come, she said.
So the newspaper guy was there, and he was impressed, entertained and encouraged to think about the play’s message. Our (and I am not excluding myself here) fascination/obsession with technology does tempt us away from interpersonal contact.
Civility when my generation was growing up was a big deal. We were expected to say please and thank you, to address adults as Mr. and Mrs. (or even aunt and uncle for close family friends), to ask to be excused from the table and to not speak unless we were spoken to. But times change and some habits that were once second nature now seem archaic. I didn’t like the formality of addressing friends and acquaintances with Mr. and Mrs. and I didn’t demand it of my sons. And I certainly didn’t want them to only speak unless spoken to.
But they were expected to be polite and courteous and I doubt either one holds any resentment for the requirement. Civility is a door opener to positive human interaction and it’s worth the effort to pass on the necessary skills to our children.
Last month, when we visited New Orleans, we were surprised at the civility we routinely encountered. Southern charm is not without its appeal. We came to expect to be greeted by people as they entered our elevator and it was an easy pattern to fall into. Canadians tend to be cool and quiet, happy to stand in solitude without acknowledging those around us. But there is an undeniable sense of camaraderie that begins with a simple hello.
Civility is, at its simplest, thoughtfulness. It is considering the interests of others and weighing the impact of everything we do.
We were in Calgary on the weekend to celebrate the birthdays of our two youngest grandchildren. The highlight was not in seeing presents opened or candles blown out, but in the story our younger son related about our oldest granddaughter, who turns six in July.
At a recent birthday party Quinn and her little brother Wilson attended, the kids all enjoyed playing in a large bouncy castle. Quinn has her own castle, which she got for her fourth birthday, and it has provided many happy hours of entertainment. But when her dad saw the same bigger castle they had enjoyed at the party advertised on Kijiji, the online classified ad site, he called the owner to ask what kind of condition it was in, surprised to see the price set at only $100. It had been used only twice, he was told, and was pretty much like new. Ryan said he would probably buy it and would call back after talking to Quinn.
He told her about the deal and asked if she wanted him to buy it (he would, in turn, sell her smaller one). At first she liked the idea, but then hesitated. Why? “Because Isla really likes my bouncy castle.” Isla is her cousin, who celebrated her first birthday this week. After a brief discussion, Quinn closed the issue with “No, I think I’ll stick with the one I have.”
It was a pretty civil decision. I think the ARES seventh grade class members would agree. I thank them for giving me another reason to think about this important subject. And I commend them for a job well done.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.