Things aren't like this in Land of Lily Pad, however. Life here has remained largely unchanged since it's humble beginnings; quiet, peaceful, and kind. I was reminded of this fact when my esteemed teacher, the Dharma Frog, arrived this morning for my weekly lesson. He was carrying a copy of The Daily Croak, a newspaper that carries news and events from around the globe, and it was obvious that my mentor and friend was visibly shaken by the tragic headlines.
After we finished our breakfast, Dharma asked me, "Irwin when you were younger, about your little brother's age, did your parents teach you about civility...about how to behave here in the swamp?" "Of course, teacher! I thought every parent taught their children manners and how to get along with others," I replied in disbelieve that he's ask that. "Doesn't everybody learn good manners?" "No, Tadpole. They do not. And many who do learn them as youngsters choose to forget them when they grow up. Today's lesson, Little One, is this: There are three things in a frog's life that are important. The first is to be kind. The second one is to be kind, and the third one is to be kind. This world, my boy, cannot survive without that."
What is civility anyway? It stems from the Latin word civilis which pertains to citizens, civil, and civic. Figuratively, it means courteous, polite, affable, urbane. The substantive meaning is courtesy and civility. The root give us the word civilization. Civilization means large groups of people living and co-existing together with defined social norms. Civility, then, is practicing these norms so that humans (and frogs) can live together peacefully. This is necessary because people, as you know, are like snowflakes. Each one is different and unique, with his/her own set of believes, rules, and upbringing. Without these social norms, there would be no law and order; chaos would reign. Humans would begin running amok. Kind of like they are now. You might ask, "Why has civility been lost? What caused it to die it?" The short answer, according to Dharma, is anonymity.
We have contempt for people we don't even know. We see them in the physical realm, but only in the abstract. They are nameless. They aren't identified as human, thus they aren't seen as being people. When this happens, we begin to treat them in an uncivilized way. This is how it starts. But the world we live in contributes greatly to our incivility.
Think of all the places where you run into rude people. Airports, highways, sporting events, the shopping mall, long lines (everywhere), even on the sidewalk. Perhaps you've been rude yourself in one of these places. We rarely know the people we encounter in these crowded places. They are nameless, often faceless, individuals to us. We don't know what happened to them that morning...nor do we care. Because we don't really see them, we don't see them as being like us. If they're not like us, they don't matter. This leads to more incivility. And then there's technology.
As digital technology expands, so does our incivility. It becomes so easy to insult and to cause pain to those we might disagree with when we aren't looking them straight in the eye. Even at the office, we send biting comments to co-workers from the safety of our desks, rather than talk to them face-to-face in a civilized manner. This happens even when we haven't met the person on the receiving end of our nasty email. And the media doesn't help, either. With 24/7 news coverage, cable stations have many hours to fill and use a great deal of attacking their opposing side. Quite often, the person being attacked isn't even in the same room! Anyone, even me, can have a website, a blog, or post on social forums. We vent. We spout off. We say things online that we'd probably never dare say to anyone's face. Yet, somehow, it becomes okay to write it down for all the world to see. In many cases these folks don't even bother to use their real names! Technology has made it very easy for us to bully others...to act uncivilized...and with anonymity. There's that word again....
This may look like a fairly hopeless situation. But is it really? Is it too late for us to start being civil again? I invite all you all back tomorrow for part two of Dharma's lesson on civility, where he'll give us some pointers on how to breath life back into the dying world of kindness. I hope you'll join me.