When did civility (or lack thereof) become only referenced when considering political discourse?  The left and the right may, to some, reference liberal or conservative political beliefs, but when it comes to acting in a civil manner – examples go way beyond politicians and their evolving platforms.  Civility is deeply connected to how we treat each other, the level of respect that we show for the person or people next to us.

Where has civility gone, why is it in such short supply, and what is the impact on our way of life?  Opposing views become disagreements; disagreements become battle; battles define opposite poles that shall never come together; and polarization leads to deep misunderstanding and hate.  This is where we are, and it doesn’t stop with left and right.  It seeps into every aspect of our daily lives and trickles down to our family, friends, children, and grandchildren.  It draws people together into silos of belief and imbeds feelings of right or wrong without any gray area.  People clamor to find those who agree with them whether right or wrong, truth or lie, beneficial or harmful.  A lack of civility is a communicable disease that grows and spreads like a virus from host to host, infecting as many people as possible.  What is most distressing is that once you are accepted into the silo it is nearly impossible to change a person’s position on any topic even when indisputable facts are presented.

“My hope is that we would begin to have a dialogue in this country about the importance of civility.  We can have strong differences, but it does seem to me that most of the country believes it’s gone to critical mass in what I would call the professional class across the political spectrum – left and right.”

-Tom Brokaw

The examples we present are impactful, especially when we are in a position of power (politician, parent, alpha friend, employer, celebrity, writer, strong personality, teacher, or religious leader).  People want to believe in something and someone, there are far more loyal followers than civil leaders, so the one who speaks the loudest, with authority, attracts the largest number of followers – new recruits for the silo.  It may not involve formal membership (although there are numerous examples of silo membership), but those who follow tend to be quite loyal. 

It starts simply, maybe too simply:  Never looking people in the eye, or failing to smile and express “good morning, good evening, thanks, have a nice day.”  It moves on to never holding a door for the person behind you, choosing to jump ahead in line, always finding fault with others and pointing out those faults to anyone who might listen, and misconstruing different opinions as elements of hate and disrespect.  “You don’t like my football team – I hate you.  You like that type of music – I hate you.  You voted for that candidate, get out of my life.  You own those type of kitchen knives – you are a shoemaker.”  The list goes on and on.  It is truly a disease that is creeping through every nook and cranny of our existence.  I can only imagine what it must be like to build a relationship with another individual nowadays.  Soon we will need to fill out a profile of beliefs before going on that first date.

“Civility is not about dousing strongly held views.  It’s about making sure that people are willing to respect other perspectives.”

-Jim Leach

It happens in every community, every place of work, and every industry.  It happens in kitchens where an interesting breed of civility always existed in the past.  As rough and tumble as kitchen life has always been there was an unwritten rule of civility that basically inferred: respect your co-workers, respect the ingredients, respect the chain of command, respect the customer, and by all means respect your skill set.  As long as this was in place, and you worked hard everyone would show you respect once you tied on an apron.

Civility meant that you would never fall down on the job and put your co-worker in a difficult position.  You would never violate the honor of working with ingredients that farmers, ranchers, and fishermen risked everything to put at your disposal, and regardless of how they acted, the customer was respected because they put their trust in you.  Is this still the case?  How many restaurants suffer from employees not showing up to work, failing to step in the kitchen ready to work, failing to respect the standards of excellence that a restaurant is basing its reputation on, or failing to do a job to the best of their ability?  Doing your job as you should is an act of civility; failure to do so is just short of anarchy.  Yet, this is where we are.

A lack of civil behavior exists in healthcare, education, the legal profession, politics, retail operations, head-to-head business competition, law enforcement, the military, and kitchens.  Acting without thoughts of kindness, when being rude and antagonistic becomes the rule and not the exception, when failing to treat others with any level of respect is considered “the way it is”, then how do we continue to categorize ourselves as a civilized society?

Happiness and success come from an environment of respect and caring, not from one where anxiety and blatant hostile discourse are prevalent.  As human beings we crave acceptance and support and when it does not exist, we feel lost and demeaned. 

Kitchen work, as an example, is a team sport.  Those who spend time in front of a stove know in their hearts and minds that working together, supporting one another, and having each other’s back is essential if we are to thrive and succeed.  When acceptable decorum is in short supply then support is replaced with caution and mistrust – this is not the fuel for success or a way to create an environment that breeds unity of purpose.  The same is true in any other environment between co-workers, operators and employees, or employees and guests. 

Civility still exists, but it is in short supply.  There are still businesses and social circles where the rules of civility flourish, but there is a growing presence of discourse, disrespect, and lack of kindness wherever you turn.  You can see it in person-to-person encounters that revert to anger and hate, rude interactions between business employees and customers, news commentators and business associates who interrupt each other during conversation, a lack of respect shown to those once considered professionals worthy of acknowledgement, and even a lack of honor paid to society’s elders. 

Holding doors for others, saying thank you, offering a good morning or afternoon welcome, giving up a seat for a person in need, sharing, and paying respect to those who give of themselves for the betterment of others is just good behavior – something that civilized people do.  You can still see all this pent-up civility pushing to find a home when disasters occur.  Americans are very generous when hurricanes, floods, fires, criminal behavior that impacts others, and family tragedies happen, but in the normal course of a day this quickly seems to fade.  We know that civility is still present, we simply need to embrace it, acknowledge it, and practice it.

Give it a try.  Approach today with conscious civility.  Be kind, welcoming, and supportive.  Pause a moment before you lash out in a hurtful manner and take a breath.  Begin today to condition your behavior towards civility and refrain from giving the finger to others knowing their reaction will be the same.  When we are kind, others will as well.  When we approach a situation with friction then friction you will receive.  Be the example.


Civilized: “An advanced stage of social and cultural development. The act of showing regard for others”

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