« I Have Received Nothing of Value In Exchange For Providing You With This Link... | Main | Evaluating and Rewarding Institutional Service »

Monday, October 05, 2009

Choosing Civility

Professor Farid's post reminded me that it is Choose Civility Week in Howard County, where my family lived for several years before our recent move to Buffalo.  This week is part of the Choose Civility initiative, which hopes to "enhance respect, empathy, consideration and tolerance in Howard County" by "infus[ing] civil behavior into our business, community and personal lives."  At the core, this initiative focuses on such basic principles of civility as paying attention, being respectful, and being considerate.  In short, these are things we should have learned in kindergarten, if not earlier.  

It all sounds fine and good, but questions about the impact of the movement remain.  There are no hard data about the impact of the program, and the initiative seems slogan-heavy but light on practical explanations as to how, exactly, this "infusion" will work.  If it were that easy, we could just "infuse" a strong work ethic or a "just say no" attitude toward drug use.  That's not to say that such an initiative is a waste of time an money, but, in the absence of any empirical information suggesting a tangible benefit, one has to wonder.

More than anything, it strikes me as a P.R. move.  The website constantly reminds the reader that Howard County was already "highly civil environment;" adopting this initiative is apparently a sign that the citizens of Howard County are just really, really committed to civility.  

In the interest of full disclosure, my skepticism may be based, in part, on personal experiences that are probably irrelevant.  Put simply, a disproportionate number of the cars driven by the worst, most inconsiderate drivers I ran across during my last couple of years in Howard County sported the "Choose Civility" magnet:


Mind you, I would be feeling and behaving perfectly civil BEFORE the car in front of me darted across three lanes without a signal or sat through a green light as the driver chatted someone up on their cell phone.  It was so persistent and uncanny that I actually started to wonder if the people with these magnets had been forced to put them on their vehicles by the local traffic court, perhaps as an effort to flag bad drivers and discourage those around them from giving into road rage (in retrospect, this was probably a foolish idea; I doubt that the mocking command to "choose civility" would do anything but incite those prone to road rage further).  My research revealed no such concerted effort; just the Choose Civility website. 

But I digress...I'd love to hear others' thoughts about civility initiatives such as this one.

Posted by S. Todd Brown on October 5, 2009 at 05:34 PM in Culture | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Choosing Civility:


Todd, see my related post here:

Posted by: Tim Zinnecker | Oct 6, 2009 7:57:38 AM

La plus ca change. Below are the lyrics to Tom Lehrer's definitive treatise on this subject:

National Brotherhood Week Lyrics
Artist(Band):Tom Lehrer

One week of every year is designated National Brotherhood Week. This is just one of many such weeks honoring various worthy causes. One of my favorites is National Make-fun-of-the-handicapped Week which Frank Fontaine and Jerry Lewis are in charge of as you know. During National Brotherhood Week various special events are arranged to drive home the message of brotherhood. This year, for example, on the first day of the week Malcolm X was killed which gives you an idea of how effective the whole thing is. I'm sure we all agree that we ought to love one another and I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings and I hate people like that. Here's a song about National Brotherhood Week.

Oh, the white folks hate the black folks,
And the black folks hate the white folks.
To hate all but the right folks
Is an old established rule.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
Lena Horne and Sheriff Clarke are dancing cheek to cheek.
It's fun to eulogize
The people you despise,
As long as you don't let 'em in your school.

Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks,
And the rich folks hate the poor folks.
All of my folks hate all of your folks,
It's American as apple pie.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
New Yorkers love the Puerto Ricans 'cause it's very chic.
Step up and shake the hand
Of someone you can't stand.
You can tolerate him if you try.

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Muslims,
And everybody hates the Jews.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
It's National Everyone-smile-at-one-another-hood Week.
Be nice to people who
Are inferior to you.
It's only for a week, so have no fear.
Be grateful that it doesn't last all year!

Posted by: David Levine | Oct 5, 2009 9:11:30 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.