Archive for February, 2011

I’ve noticed an undertaking recently, back towards civility.

ci·vil·i·ty/səˈvilitē/ Noun

1. Formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.
2. Polite remarks used in formal conversation

China launched campaigns to discourage spitting and and littering in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics – this has now been upscaled to nationwide classes to instill table manners and courtesy in the young, emphasizing a return to the traditional ‘Chinese roots’. I thought it was interesting and good – and then I noticed that Baghdad also ran similar classes, except through a private school, the Academy for Peace through Art. Not only is it a respite from the war and violence around people living there, good manners goes a long way, especially when they involve conversational respect.

But they are not the only ones; The City Academy, Hackney, in East London, is slowly making waves through raising standards for people interaction through the way they run their school. Children are encouraged to interact by serving each other food at the dinner table, and taught to practise social etiquette and more. See, classes on civility need not be run – just inculcate it into the system of the school, enforce it, and it will automate itself.

Which brings me back to the main point I am writing about this. Subscribing to Twitter has made me more connected to what’s going on in the world out there, through following certain subscribers. TED’s Chris Anderson posted a link to Civility Please, a new website set up to remind people about the unnecessary rudeness we go through every day in every area of life – and that we can choose, to go back to encouraging civility. With letters from the public exclaiming that “Civilization can only exist when its members are civil to each other.”, I thought, wow, this is really starting to add to the trend – because I’m sure there’s more groups about civility out there for every group I discover. Watch their clever video:

Civility Please Launch from Civility Please on Vimeo.

Elizabeth Lesser in TED goes one step further in her bid to get us to speak civily with “The Other”. Who exactly is the other? For all you environmentalists, biologists or conservationists out there, The Other is that person we all label negatively to be ignorant about climate change, the person who denies evolution, that fellow across the street who only believes in economic power. Get the picture?

She’s disturbed by how in every culture we live in, there is a tendency to demonize The Other. She draws examples from popular book titles today that demonstrate this, and then illustrates clearly that in human history, this tendency has morphed, and resulted in The Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, and more. And it can happen again.

So she’s launching an initiative.

For every Other we label negatively, Lesser encourages, and even challenges us to have real sharing sessions with these people. “Start local”, she says – with your neighbour, classmate, hawker. Why do this? The goal can be: To get to know one person from a group you have negatively stereotyped. Recognising the business that infiltrates our lives, she says, bring The Other to lunch.

She shares her own bring-The-Other-to-lunch story.

Before you get together, agree on some groundrules. For her and her tea party-mate, it was “Don’t persuade, defend, or interrupt. Be curious, be conversational, be real – and listen.”

Then, use 3 guidelines to ensure a discussion of learning:

* Share some of your life experiences
* What are the issues that deeply concern you?
* What have you always wanted to ask someone from “the other side”?

If we put aside our ideas of us being know-it-alls, and brought forth our childlike curiosity, with no intention to harm, imagine what we would learn! Mother Theresa once said: “The problem of the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small”. Imagine if we widened this circle, if more people were real to each other, if people cared about each other, and the environment around them?

With a brilliant quote to end off, I echo Lesser’s words:

Here’s how the great Persian poet Rumi put it: “Out beyond the ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

So, who’s The Other you’ll bring to lunch?

PS: What’s this doing on a nature blog, you ask? Well, think of the big picture. Our blatant repetitive behaviour in harming the environment stems from attitude and thought – if we can systemically change this by starting in this area, and sharing our ideas, the world would be a better place – at home, at work, and overseas.


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