The Grace of Emmanuel Pahud
Problems With Choosing Civility, Part 2

Choosing Civility (Or Not) in Oakland Mills

For the past several months, our local libraries have been handing out free magnetic bumper stickers that say "Choose Civility in Howard County". Apparently this isn't just an attempt to distinguish our county as more civilized than barbaric Montgomery County or seedy Anne Arundel County (I keep imagining signs at the county line saying "You are now leaving Howard County--please feel free to act like a jerk.") but rather an attempt to bring back a code of conduct in public spaces that seems (to some people at least) to have eroded over the past several decades.

The "Choose Civility" campaign got its inspiration from a book by P. M. Forni, founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project. As part of the initiative, there have been a number of discussions of Forni's book, including one tomorrow in my neighborhood, Oakland Mills. On Wednesday, November 28th, our church will also host a discussion of the book as one of the options for our Spiritual Education Evening. So, to get the conversation rolling a bit, I thought I'd post of a few of my thoughts about civility here over the next several weeks. It also occurred to me that blogging about the topic in advance might help me be...more civil during the book discussions. There are a few things I need to get off my chest.

The fact of the matter is, this campaign drives me crazy. The main reason for this is the subtitle of Forni's book: "Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct". I (#1) don't really think "rules" are the best basis for moral conduct and (#2) twenty-five is just way too many.

Before I get to my more serious point #1, I can't help but linger for a moment on #2. Twenty-five rules?? Have you seen how small the print is on the bookmark the library is handing out with all 25 listed? I bet most people don't read past #4. This might not be such a bad thing, since I personally think the most important rule is #1 ("Pay Attention"), but I wish Forni had stopped there. I wonder if he could site them all with his eyes closed? And once you read the book, you realize there are actually way more than 25 rules. Most rules have sub-rules--just look at #11, "Mind Your Body". I was trying to count the rules in that chapter, but lost track because by the time I got past 20 (no sniffling??) I had to throw the book across the room.

If Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, sponsor of a bill to post the Ten Commandments in both houses of congress, couldn't list more than three of the ten, what's the hope for us?

More thoughtful critique to come....


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Jessie N

Hey, Heather. I posted a link to this blog post here in the "Choose Civility in Howard County" Facebook group. :-p

Daniel Kirk-Davidoff

This reminds me of the "Scouring of the Shire", the second to last chapter of the Lord of the Rings, where our heroes come home to find that stupid, brutal beaurocrats have taken over their homes, and posted long lists of rules everywhere. They get more and more frustrated, until they finally relax, and start to take some pride in figuring out which of The Rules they've broken since breakfast.

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