Being Civil In The Face Of Incivility

By Barney Blakeney

Ever had something that just sticks in your craw, a bad vibe that just won’t go away? For the past week I’ve been battling this bad feeling I got after a confrontation that’s left me re-evaluating a lot of stuff which has to do with civility, courtesy and tolerance.

Last week I ran into this guy I felt played me the wrong way. I think I’m a decent guy. I suppose everybody likes to think the best of themselves, but I try to keep it real. I got demons! Part of me is not so nice. I have to work at keeping that side of me in check.

Well the other day one of them demons got loose. I was doing something and this guy got in my way. Nice Barney tried to play it off, but the other guy played that Barney off. The guy just dismissed me. He had the upper hand and literally let me know it didn’t matter what I had to do. I was at his mercy and would just have to wait ’til he felt like accommodating me. Well that ticked me off.

You see, I once read this definition of power – power is the ability to control resources to secure your destiny. I see a lot of cats running around here like they run something, suffering from delusions of grandeur, talking about what they gon’ do and what they ain’t gon’ do when the reality is they ain’t got the power to do nothing but run their mouth.

What burns me up is when people use the little bit of juice they do have to take advantage. We’re all out here struggling – even guys like Donald Trump. Here’s a guy, one of the richest most powerful guys in the world, and he’s struggling! So I don’t pay these lil peons around me any attention. The book says we’re all His children, equal in His sight, due civility, courtesy, tolerance, consideration and most of all, respect.

That power thing is a blip! People assert their power over the pettiest issues. The other day I was turning onto Meeting Street and this car zooms in front of me in the other lane. Had I drifted over out of my lane making the turn we’d have collided. The speeding car weaved in and out of lanes ahead of me only to stop at a traffic light a couple of hundred yards away.

Many of us have done stuff like that. I know I have. But I also have seen accidents involving speeding cars recklessly going nowhere in a hurry. Too often it don’t end real pretty.

When I got to the light, I stopped next to the car, saw a young female driver and mouthed to her the words, “Slow down!” Anticipating the changing light, she smiled sarcastically and gave me the finger. My light changed but hers didn’t. She pulled off thinking she had affected an escape before realizing she still was stuck. Demon Barney spent the rest of the day pondering how I could have made her day worse.

I already had spent the previous day tormenting myself over the confrontation with the first guy. I really wanted to get even with that guy. Now here was this young chick who I felt epitomized the same attitude of entitlement exhibited by that other guy and all too many other people. In both incidents I had allowed myself to go to a very dark place. I wanted to lash out at them. I’m trying to put some light in my life, but people will cast dark shadows over you if you let them. And I had let those two do just that.

The next day I read an op-ed piece in the daily paper about civility. Uncivil behavior can spread through our society like the flu, it said. Behaviors such as aggression, anger, blaming, dishonesty, greed and bullying are contagious, said Ashley Merryman, the author. She said Americans historically have resorted to incivility in an effort to be heard. She referred to studies that show 94 percent of us respond to that with our own incivility – most commonly with anger and a desire to retaliate. And passive aggressiveness has an equally negative impact, she offered.

But Merryman also offered that we don’t have to accept such behavior as the new normal and countered with the thought that positive behaviors are also contagious. Receiving generosity makes us more likely to be generous, studies suggest. Civil conduct elicits civil conduct.

Focusing on the issues, respecting others and acknowledging the strengths in others’ arguments promote more civil discourse. In other words, we can disagree without being disagreeable. Being civil is a good response to incivility.

I think that’s all good and everything, but it’s hard to do. I know this stuff and I try to live it, but here I am a week later and my demons still cry out for vengeance. I’ve always heard that you have to let stuff like that go or it eats you up. I had that conversation with a friend yesterday, we must move beyond the perceived affronts that occur in our lives, especially when the objects of our consternation have moved on. I’ll never see either of the folks who crossed me again. They’ve gone on with their lives and here I am writing about some crap that happened a week ago.

My point here; we should be mindful of our acts of incivility toward each other. It’s a gnawing, nagging poison that only swerves to bring out the worst in us. I’ve got to work harder on being more civil, courteous and tolerant.

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