Civil Rights

My library (Howard County Library) started an initiative based on Dr. P.M. Forni’s book Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct.  It has really mushroomed into something that all the leaders in the County have participated in.

Choose Civility‘s mission is to choose respect, consideration, empathy, and tolerance as our fundamental values, enhancing the community’s quality of life.  A noble goal to say the least.   But with noble causes seem to come detractors.  Someone sent an email complaining about the Choose Civility car magnets.  The car magnets are meant to be reminders to all that we ALL need to treat each other with a little more civility.  It isn’t meant to be in a preachy sort of way but in a gentle nudge.  The person who sent in the email was upset because they had witnessed uncivil behavior by a car that displayed the magnet.

I’ve been mulling this over in my mind for some time.  Does displaying a bumper sticker or car magnet make one liable?  If I display a Baltimore Ravens or Baltimore Orioles bumper sticker does that mean I am their most loyal fan?  What if I’m just a fair weather fan but in a moment of passion for my team I put on a bumper sticker?  Once that passion wanes do I need to take it off?  More importantly just because I display a sentiment on my car am I not allowed a moment of human weakness.

I do get this person’s point.  You should not display something on your car and then act in the opposite manner.  But I think we also need to remember that along with choosing civility we need to choose forgiveness.  Forgive the person that chose poorly to act in an uncivil manner.  Along with forgiveness needs to come a little bit of seeing things from the other side.  I’m not condoning poor driving (it is actually one of my pet peeves) but sometimes we don’t know the whole story.   For example you get stuck behind an elderly couple walking slow and hogging up the aisle in a grocery store – but what you don’t know is she is diagnosed with terminal cancer and they are taking the time to enjoy every last moment together.  If you knew the full story would you act rudely and brush by them or would you walk slowly until the end of the aisle and go a different route to allow them to move at their own pace?  You don’t know if that person who drove in an uncivil manner was actually in a hurry to get to the hospital, get home to a sick child, distressed over a loss of a loved one or many other reasons.  Again, not condoning bad driving behavior – just stop and think if maybe there was a reason behind what you perceive as bad behavior.  We are all human and during times of stress we don’t always make sound decisions (behind the wheel or otherwise).

There is no easy answer to any of these things.  Civility is important but so is tolerance, understanding and most important forgiveness.


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