Civility and Courtesy

Have rudeness and incivility become the “new normal?” Whatever happened to the “common courtesy” most elders like me were raised to follow? Remember the rule “If you can’t say something nice about a person, don’t say anything at all?” In my home, my parents didn’t allow talk about divorce, infidelity, or alcoholism. We didn’t gossip. We were told never to call a person a moron or freak.

We were raised to be polite and to bite our tongues rather than offend.

When I worked my way through college by digging ditches with oil “Roughnecks” from Oklahoma and working on the ore boats of the Great Lakes, co-workers were often profane. Then, while serving in the U.S. Army 1958-60, I heard swearing and gossip. Sometimes I also swore. To get along with the guys, I chose to go along.

Definitions: Courtesy (noun) The showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behavior toward others. Antonyms: rudeness, disrespect, surliness.

There is an excellent new book on civility worthy of reading: Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace, Christine Porath, 2017. Here are some of the key take-aways from this book:

–Individuals feel valued and powerful when they are respected. Civility lifts people, and teams and businesses along with them.

–Small civil gestures make a difference.

–Rude people succeed despite their incivility, not because of it.

The key point the author explains is that incivility is contagious and spreads easily within groups, teams, families and political associations. Once the contagion has spread like an infection, it’s hard to remove it.

The author includes an incivility test you can take to check on your interpersonal habits, and another test for assessing other people. These can be used in everyday life, both within and beyond the workplace.

What some wise people have said about civility:

“When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.” –Samuel Johnson

“Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with a few, friend to one, enemy to none.” –Benjamin Franklin

“The wise man does not lay up his own treasures. The more he gives to others, the more he has for his own.” –Lao Tzu, Chinese sage.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Reprinted with permission of Dr.Loren Ekroth, publisher of “Better Conversations” weekly newsletter. Free subscriptions at