Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The civility of no race can be perfect whilst another race is degraded.” Civility, unfortunately, is often subjective. Females of a certain age and social strata were raised to be civil by holding their tongues; not speaking their minds. In essence; to be nice and not make waves. Accepted discourse among men could include vehement expression of differing opinions. Women were regarded as harpies, or worse if engaging in similar behavior. Of course, only white men could express themselves and speak their minds. Because it was a white man’s world. And still is. White America acknowledges and accepts a form of ‘civility’ without regard to equitability to the other Americas. Words spoken by those, not in the white male club are not equal to those spoken by club members.
Certain levels of perceived civility are required in the workplace, or workers suffer consequences of ostracism, reprimand, and termination. Much of the imposed ‘civility’ is imposed without written guidelines or in the not-so-subtle “Office Expectations” thrust upon employees at staff meetings. Examples of said ‘civility’ often include such inanities as “put a smile in your voice” and “smile and greet coworkers in passing.” Civility is to mean pretending all is well and appear happy.
Merriam-Webster defines civility as civilized conduct, especially courtesy and politeness. The Institute For Civility In Government [https://www.instituteforcivility.org/] states, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” Politeness is the starting point for communication about differences and disagreeing without disrespect. The Institute founders (white female and white male) conduct training for teaching others about civil discourse and make the rounds of paid speaking engagements. It’s all very…civil.
NPR produced an entire series titled “Civility Wars” [https://www.npr.org/series/702738248/civility-wars]. Apparently, there is uncertainty in wide arenas as to what constitutes accepted ‘civility.’ Especially in the current climate of verbal and written attacks via social, print, and video media streams.
Are there not circumstances in which listening to differing opinions and allowing every voice to be heard carries politeness too far? Is the hate speech of Nazis and other oppressors to be regarded with as much civility as any others’ opinions?
I venture to postulate civility is not only far from perfect; it is virtually nonexistent and the idea of it is often used as a tool to control those who will not keep silent when confronted with blatant circumstances of unjust treatment toward other humans. To those remaining silent in the name of ‘civility,’ I say “Rise up! Speak up! Do not let politeness rob you of your voice to scream out ‘this is wrong’!” The days are past when peasants could en masse take up pitchforks and storm the castles. However, survival demands each of us to not remain silent in the face of injustice, hatred, oppression, racism, and inhumanity.