Character Essay: What is Civility?

Author: Swinston

Greetings Dear Friends,

I am honored to have this opportunity to share a few words on the subject of civility, a subject I believe from time to time requires some reflection. Indeed, among my colleagues any mention of the matter (often coming about during the course of our more vigorous conversations) raises a few proverbial eyebrows. But how shall the term itself be defined? Civility perhaps is a condition of thought and action. For some, civility is a fine veneer, a coating on the surface of social interaction, and perhaps only this and nothing more. For my purposes, and to provoke some reflection, I suggest this idea of the thin veneer be called the passive form of civility. Smile, share a few pleasantries, and continue on in the hope one will not be called upon for true action. For our discussion, the notion of civility may also hold a different meaning. For perhaps there is a more active form of civility, embodying the notion it is one's duty to embolden civilization. By embolden I mean to suggest undertaking the active effort to be always kind and caring and helpful. Such a task can be daunting or difficult when circumstances are challenging or not what we wish.

But in our own small ways most of us here on The Farm do what we can to perform this notion of active civility. Even so, I believe it useful to consider further the active form, and to do so I will refer to the actions of a, for our purposes here, hypothetical friend who is in a position of influence, as we are all whenever we chance upon one another. But this friend embraces the active notion of civility as a guiding principle, and thus uses any endowments of knowledge, skill, influence or talent to help or to serve others. Indeed, the active notion requires us to do our best to further the fundamental elements of what we commonly call "civilization": kindness, respect, tolerance, openness, dignity.

So again, I ask the question, what is civility? I do not claim to have discovered a definitive answer to this question or even claim such an answer exists, but I do wish to provide an opportunity for the more philosophically inclined to reflect on the topic. What does it mean to you? And what example do you wish to offer? To embrace active civility as I have presented it may not be an easy road to choose, for it takes effort. And as I have found, such a road may come with resistance and occasionally, doubt, along with a fair number of mistakes along the way. Even so, as with many things difficult and requiring of effort, the rewards are always the greater.

Respectfully Yours,

The Books


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