It has been difficult falling asleep lately. The other night, tired of tossing and turning, I decided to browse the internet. I don’t usually scroll aimlessly. I thought of Netflix. But on sleepless nights, the last thing you want to do is watch an exciting movie. I looked for soft music. I made a mental note to get a playlist together. I just wanted to listen and be lullabied off to dreamland. I was not in the mood for a stand-up comedian. And so I settled for what looked like a lecture. Good, I thought. It will bore me and I will sleep. I set the laptop by my pillow.
Then I heard a gentleman talk about civility, in the workplace, at home, everywhere. And suddenly I was all ears, wide awake.
The voice I heard belonged to journalist Steve Petrow. He explained the original definition of civility.
“Citizens willing to give of themselves for the larger good.” Petrow calls himself a “civilist,” a person who tries to live by a moral code and strives to be a good citizen.
How simple and easy that sounds. He didn’t say where we could find his kind. It must be a vanishing breed. Sad.
Points to ponder
We have drifted away from the idea of citizenship. Genuine civility is obsolete. To some, civility today translates into censure. It has become a dirty word. I believe that the way we speak to each other has hit an all-time low. Our language has been demonized. And it does not matter on which side of an issue, political or otherwise, you are on. Good manners have disappeared and Petrow puts the blame on bullying.
From their high perches, the bullies and predators rule the roost. There is a free-for-all for insults, cuss words and demeaning accusations. We have become puppets of the abusive rhetoric, part of the shouting and cursing. It’s the only language we understand.
Where has civility gone?
Do you remember when “political correctness” became the prerequisite of conversation? It was so complicated to choose the right “nonoffensive” words that we started to withdraw from the arena of conversation. We quit on dialogue. It became safer to shut up.
It is so sad that public discourse is so irreparably damaged. We are never sure of what we can say or how to say it, and still be politically correct.
Petrow talked about how to achieve respectful engagement, about deescalating our language so that there are no words that pull triggers and cause violence or strife. “These are not the words that help us find a common heart.”
Petrow comments that our language today reminds him of what was called “newspeak” in George Orwell’s novel “1984.” The bestseller was written in 1949.
I read this book decades ago. I thought then it was pure fiction and found it rather irrelevant. But I read it again quite recently. And it frightened me.
Before he closed, Petrow gives us food for thought. He suggests we must set rules of discourse. He asks us to think about the good things we forego when we are not civil. “What are we missing out on when we are being rude?” And from an incident he had at a bakery shop he teaches us that when we share a moment of kindness, we could achieve a moment of connection.
I listened to one more speaker before drifting off to sleep. Christine Porath is an author and management professor at the McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University. She has traveled for big businesses like Google and the International Monetary Fund to find solutions to the problem of incivility, especially in the workplace. But her talk also applies to the home and the family. Porath opens with a question, “Who do you want to be?”
And then she goes on to describe incivility as disrespect, rudeness; that it happens when we tease or humiliate someone, when we put them down, or not listen, or text while they talk.
And I liked it when she said; “Just because you don’t put someone down does not mean that you have lifted him up.” Think about it.
Executive failure happens when the person at the top is insensitive or a bully. The staff is stressed. Performance suffers. Business fails.
Unfortunately this happens in the home as well.
I know many otherwise nice young men and women who bring home the stress of the workplace and take it out on their families. Eventually, the home falls apart.
Porath ends her talk with the results of a survey of what workers look for and appreciate in a leader. She says it is the small things that make all the difference.
Here’s her list: Thank people, share credit with them, listen attentively, humbly ask questions, acknowledge them and smile.
Also, it is essential that the boss make people feel they are respected, valued, heard; and not disrespected, overlooked or ignored.
Now, let’s take that home. Showing up is not enough. We must be there, really there. We need to touch.
But because we are so “tethered to technology” we text and do not speak. We hold our phones instead of holding hands, Let’s pull the plug. Before we lose it all. Please.