Coach’s Challenge for 3/28/11 “Civility”

Good day, team.

This past week, I had the delightful experience of traveling to Vancouver, B.C., to visit a client. I’m particularly fond of Vancouver, so I intentionally arrived a day early to enjoy the city.

As in past visits, I was struck by the friendliness of the Canadians and how helpful they are, especially to travelers. From the fellow who helped me buy my ticket for public transport to the woman in the elevator at my hotel who introduced herself as one of the staff, handed me her card and offered to assist me in any way she could, I was delighted by each encounter. I found the same attitude in the meetings with my client. Each person I spoke with was friendly and welcoming. They were respectful and courteous in their demeanor.

These experiences made an impression on me, and I realized it’s because so many people in this day and age seem to have lost their civility, along with the graciousness that generally accompanies it. To define “civil,” I refer to two definitions:

  1. Adhering to the norms of polite social intercourse; not deficient in common courtesy
  2. Marked by benevolence — “He was a very civil sort; we liked him immediately.”

So many people seem to have lost the value for what it means to be civil when communicating with others. In today’s world, we hear people use swear words on a daily basis. Many programs on television and radio focus on violence and negativity (watch or listen to any of the talk show hosts and you’ll be appalled by the lack of civility and humanity). The way many people relate to one another is void of grace and eloquence. I remember my father saying to my sister and me, “Try to keep a civil tongue in your head.” But that’s not a phrase I hear any longer.

One thing I remember strongly about our annual visits to see my grandparents in Boston is the civil tone that was always used in their household. My father’s father was a lawyer, and listening to him speak about almost any subject was a delight. He read Latin and Greek and was extremely well versed in classical literature. Consequently, he had an extensive vocabulary and was an accomplished orator. My grandmother, also well educated, occasionally would spice up the conversations by adding a ribald (but never vulgar) comment now and again just to “get his goat,” as my grandfather said. She’d get a chuckle from the rest of the dinner guests. Sunday dinner at their home was always a somewhat formal affair but not without warmth and humor. The entire event had an air of civility and graciousness that I often try to recreate in my own family dinners.

Visiting my mother’s parents in Maine was a very different experience, but no less in its graciousness. My maternal grandparents were more down to earth and approachable. My grandfather, Pearl Woodbury, or “Woody” as he was affectionately called, always had a smile and a helping hand for everyone. The sparkle in his blue eyes and ever-present sense of humor were known to all. He and my grandmother had a loving way of being together, and they showered grace on their family and friends. I never heard my grandfather say a bad word about anyone, and he was always civil in his tone and interactions.

These people raised my parents to be civically minded; that is, with the understanding that doing one’s civic duty and helping the community was a requirement of those more fortunate than others. Although my mother’s family was not wealthy by any means, they had strong values and extended their help whenever they could to friends and community members in need. I realize now that this made them richer than many people I’ve known who have much greater material wealth.

Both of my parents were always active in our community and church, wherever we lived. It made them happier and better people to be able to extend themselves to others, and they made every attempt to be courteous and respectful to others, just like the Canadians did for me this past week.

These ideas of civility and graciousness may seem a bit outdated. But, even in today’s world, I see that a person who shows a strong sense of civility and graciousness in their dealings with others is highly respected.

Your challenge this week is to think about how civil you are in your speech and actions. Would others describe you as gracious? How about the way you communicate with others in meetings and social events? Do they see you as a bully or vulgar? And do you extend yourself to others? Do you involve yourself in community activities that serve others? This week, try being more civil in your conversations. See if you can find ways to extend yourself with grace and warmth.

In closing, I share one of my favorite quotes about civility from the country singer, Emmylou Harris. She said, “As citizens, we have to be more thoughtful and more educated and more informed. I turn on the TV, and I see these grown people screaming at each other, and I think, ‘Well, if we don’t get our civility back, we’re in trouble.’ ”

Have a good week!

Kathleen

Kathleen Doyle-White

Pathfinders Coaching

(503) 296-9249

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