Is This A Good Time to Talk About Civility?

Published: December 12, 2018

By Jim Lichtman
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P.M. Forni, the early Italian Literature professor who asked all of us to choose civility, died earlier this month at his Maryland home.

As a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, Forni help found The Civility Project whose aim was to examine the importance of civility in society, and promote its practice on college campuses and communities around the country.

As a result, Forni produced two books, “Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct,” (2002) and The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude (2010).

As reported by The New York Times (Dec. 11), “The first book is how not to be rude,” Virginia Forni explained in a telephone interview, “and the second book is what to do when other people are rude to you.”

Forni’s original 25 rules may appear simple, but can be challenging to practice for some:

Pay attention; Acknowledge others; Think the best; Listen; Be inclusive; Speak kindly; Don’t speak ill; Accept and give praise; Respect even a subtle “no”; Respect others’ opinions; Mind your body; Be agreeable; Keep it down (and rediscover silence); Respect other people’s time; Respect other people’s space; Apologize earnestly; Assert yourself; Avoid personal questions; Care for your guests; Think twice before asking for favors; Refrain from idle complaints; Accept and give constructive criticism; Respect the environment and be gentle to animals; and Don’t shift responsibility and blame.

“Lack of civility, [Forni] argued, is also more than a matter of semantics.

“ ‘Acts of violence are often the result of an exchange of acts of rudeness that spiral out of control,’ he told The Christian Science Monitor in 2007. ‘Disrespect can lead to bloodshed. By keeping the levels of incivility down we keep the levels of violence down.’ ”

“In ‘Choosing Civility,’ Dr. Forni recalled the revelatory moment,” The Times continues.

“ ‘One day, while lecturing on the Divine Comedy, I looked at my students and realized that I wanted them to be kind human beings more than I wanted them to know about Dante,’ he wrote. ‘I told them that if they knew everything about Dante and then they went out and treated an elderly lady on the bus unkindly, I’d feel that I had failed as a teacher.’ ”

Thus, was born The Civility Project. Along with U.C.L.A. Professor Giulia Sissa, the two “organized an ambitious conference called ‘Reassessing Civility: Forms and Values at the End of the Century.’ ”

Can we learn to be more civil to each other in critical times?

It can only help.


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