January had already begun and I hadn’t decided on a New Year’s resolution. After last week’s violence in Washington, D.C., I now know what it is: To conscientiously practice civility.
I believe the uncivil, nasty, screaming, name-calling, suspicion-building, “cancelling” devolution of our culture that has been on display for the past year is a large contributor in bringing us to this moment. We have lost the important ability to listen and treat others respectfully, when we don’t agree with them and even when we do. “I’m right, you’re not.” “I can’t win unless you lose,” is the new operating standard.
I think the little things we do personally every day add up to show a much bigger picture of who we are as a society. Our nation’s current incivility and intolerance is death by a thousand cuts because it validates and enables more of the same. This is evidenced not only by the behavior of politicians and anonymous people on social media, but in our everyday interactions with family, friends, and those in our communities.
Incivility is the check-out clerk who vigorously snarled when I absentmindedly got in the “10 items or less” grocery line with 13 things even though I was the only customer in the store. It is the aggressive driver who cuts you off in traffic waving a third-figure salute as she speeds away. It is people who leave litter in our parks and pubic places. It is the customer service representative who simply hung up on me when she didn’t know the answer to my question. It is the use of crude and demeaning language that has become ubiquitous, even among our leaders. When we engage in uncivil behavior, we contribute to eroding the foundational principles of our democracy.
I’m not suggesting that practicing civility is the magic answer to solving our serious national problems, but committing to being respectful of our fellow human beings would go a long way toward helping. We can’t make progress if we don’t or won’t listen to one another.
While I can’t control what happens on a national level, or what other people do, I can work to control myself. This year I resolve to practice civility.
The Protocol School of Washington (www.psow.edu) has declared June 4-10 National Business Etiquette Week with a theme of “Toxic Workplaces: How to Resurrect Civility in Business.” Bravo to them because we could all use a reminder about now. Incivility is rampant. It is an insidious poison that degrades our relationships with individuals and nations, and erodes our own happiness. Incivility breeds incivility but the good news is that civility is contagious and far less stressful than living in a constant state of self-absorbed, aggressive snark.
National Business Etiquette Week and its theme prompted a healthy discussion in the university events office, not only because we are the keepers of campus protocol, but we are often the face of the university to alumni, donors, and our community. We are expected to be considerate, after all, that is our job. The flip side is that we are also the recipients of rude behavior from entitled guests who fail to r.s.v.p., announce dietary restrictions as meals are being served, demand to know why arrangements aren’t tailored to their personal preferences, arrive late, show up to adult occasions with children in tow, or worst of all, r.s.v.p. and then don’t show up at all. Through it all, we must maintain composure and treat everyone with unfailing politeness. It’s not always easy. Our conversation led to the consensus that business etiquette boils down to showing respect for others (even when we disagree with what they do or say) and treating them the way we would like to be treated. It’s thinking more about the other person than ourselves. We created lists of the behaviors we don’t like, and the positive behaviors that we do like. Thinking about business etiquette helped us re-focus on what we can do to make our world more respectful. I hope you and your staff will take the time this week to do the same.
Here is our list of every day ways we can be part of the solution.
We pledge to respect others by:
- Affirming that race, religion, politics, and sexual orientation have no bearing on our ability to be polite. Everyone has value as a person.
- Being on time. Doing so shows respect for colleagues and guests.
- Being prepared for meetings by having the items we have been assigned completed or ready for discussion and all needed materials with us.
- Returning all messages promptly, including e-mails.
- Keeping our inboxes clean. (Nothing says “disorganized” or is more frustrating than hearing a “this inbox is full and cannot accept messages” recording on cell or office telephones.)
- Eschewing foul language, especially the once taboo but now ubiquitous “f-bomb.”
- Dressing professionally which means wearing clothes and accessories that are appropriate for the office, modest in styling and that cover cleavage, tattoos, toes, and upper arms. For men, it means shirts with collars and trousers on a casual day, coat and tie otherwise.
- Keeping the office kitchenette and break room tidy. No dishes in the sink, litter or spills left behind on surfaces or in the microwave, and only fresh food stored in the refrigerator.
- Keeping private life private by not talking about personal problems in the office or online.
- Treating coworkers with a cheerful attitude and a sincere willingness to help accomplish goals.