I asked my wise teacher if civility was really dead or if it was only comatose. Could it be revived and brought back to life? He believes that it can be resuscitated. How? By eliminating anonymity. Here's how we begin to breath life back into the core of human (and frog) existence...civility.
We're all familiar with the Golden Rule; "Treat others the way you want to be treated." This concept, I dare say, occurs in some form in nearly every religion and every culture. In Christianity, this translates into "Love thy neighbor as thyself." But how does that correlate to anonymity? In order to love your neighbor, or anyone else, you must first know your neighbor. Take a good look at your neighbor. He/she has a name and a face. They struggle just like you do. They have bills to pay. Their kids get sick. They lose loved ones. They're really no different at all. They are worthy of respect...just like you. If we learn to train ourselves to think this way, we can begin to eliminate the anonymity that separates us from them. But anonymity, and the lack of civility, goes well beyond the confines of our neighbor's property. Who are our neighbors? As our world digitally expands, so does the definition of who is our neighbor. Social media has given us more new ways to be uncivil to each other, many of whom may live halfway around the globe. Yesterday, during my lesson, Dharma asked me, "What if, Irwin, when someone is irritating you, you stop and ask yourself, 'I wonder what his his/her name is? What if you thought about what they might look like instead of seeing them as the dark blue sedan who cut you off in traffic, or the keyboard that typed the tweet you disagree with? You might ask yourself, 'I wonder why they did that, what's going on in their life?' or 'I wonder why they think that way?' What if, Irwin, you thought about them as your neighbor, someone whom you know and like? Would that change how you would react to them?" Yes, it would most definitely change how I react. I wouldn't be as quick to judge them or blow up in a fit of rage. I was surprised how easy the solution was!
Resuscitating civility begins with each one of us; by teaching ourselves to think more with our hearts than with our heads. To see everyone as real and important, especially those with whom we disagree. Everyone deserves respect and civility. By being civil to everyone, we are not acknowledging that we like them, or even agree with them or what they do or say. Civility is about respecting another's right to exist. Each of us shares this planet with 7.6 billion other people and countless animals. We are all here for the same reason, trying every day to just do "our thing" and get by the best we can.
Perhaps more parents should teach manners and civility to their offspring. Maybe it should be a mandatory class in every school. Learning how to behave in the swamp, whether that swamp is Land of Lily Pad, a small village in rural Africa, or the very heart of New York City, will make life far more pleasant and easier on all of us. Kindness begets kindness.
As Samuel Johnson, the 18th century English writer, moralist, and poet, once said, "When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of a return to kindness and decency."
Let's work together to make sure this doesn't happen.