So why are we interested in civil behavior?
The Purple Tree has recently reintroduced another line of clothing that is meant to exemplify and encourage some of the basic rules of civil behavior. While uncivil behavior has a long history within human cultures, the arch toward increasing civility in secular, political, and public affairs seemed to be increasing in our own culture until about 40 years ago. It began, in my memory and judgment, when division and vilification of the opposite party became the new norm in our Congress. It was also a time when the very role of government was questioned, negatively defined, and publicly excoriated. In the next four decades, civics courses in our public schools declined and were eliminated, common good safety nets were constantly challenged and removed, and public discourse became increasingly angry. So here we now are, divided, untrusting, angry, and often uncivil with others.
In Latin, the roots of two related words, civis (citizen) and civita (city), reflect the connection necessary for civil behavior as a means of maintaining a functioning society. Together, they provide a code of social behaviors that create order and provide for the common good of all citizens. In other words, civility is simply decency and being considerate of others in all interpersonal relationships.
Our first President, George Washington, was likely being disciplined in elementary school by being told to copy a 16th century set of behavioral rules compiled for young people by Jesuits. They are still available as “The 110 Rules of Civil Behavior.” They ended up being one of the earliest and most effective forces to shape the life of our first President. They were designed to help form our inner habits by shaping our outer habits. In other words, we become the kind of people on the inside that we learn to act like on the outside. To become civil we need to learn to be and act civil.