Civility Strengthens You

My grandparents were part of the Giants Booster Club, and for years used to take  my brother, sister and I to the San Francisco Giants games.  As is sometimes the case with warm nostalgic memories, I wanted to experience again the wide open mounds, smell of peanuts and popcorn, and the thud (or is it the clink?) of bat hitting ball.

So for my birthday this year, my husband bought the family tickets to our local baseball team’s game on a warm summer night.

I was in memory bliss. Until the last inning when the coach of our home (and winning, btw) team threw out a few nasty messages to the umpire, inciting a round robin of uncivil barbs and unsightly language on the playing field.

While I occasionally succumb to creative use of language, in this situation it really put a damper on my once a year love affair with the game. It ruined the fun and (until then) sportsmanlike atmosphere.  And just when my husband thought he could talk me into liking football!

It feels natural these days to ask: where has civility gone?

Does it even have meaning anymore?  It can seem not, when more than 2/3rds of RSVPs are ignored and swear words are more commonly heard than plain sentences on the grounds of my daughter’s high school. Are these simply the rantings of highly sensitive people (myself included), or does lack of civility represent a deeper cost for everyone?

According to P.M. Forni in his book, The Civility Solution:

“Incivility is both caused by stress and causes stress, and stress is not only a producer of human misery, but is also very costly in dollars.”

I believe the real issue goes deeper than lamenting the persistent erosion of civility in our culture. We need to go beyond civility to kindness.  Kindness allows for concern and even care for the other person.  An unselfish act of kindness staves off the stress of an uncivil act of rudeness. When you think of others first, you aren’t inclined to lash out quite as quickly.

When you are at the very least civil, especially in a new situation, you build trust more quickly, and that can add up over time to more income and better working relationships. You connect from a place of strength, even health.

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Forni elaborates on how being civil brings health benefits the opposite of stress:

He concluded, as he often does, with the notion that kindness needn’t be seen as self-sacrifice. If you pet a dog, he said, the dog’s neurons transmit a cascade of pleasing neurochemicals that help strengthen its immune system. But more remarkable, he pointed out, is that petting a dog elicits the same salubrious cascade in your brain. He cites studies showing that, more generally, volunteer work can induce a feeling some have termed the “helper’s high”—like the “runner’s high,” a period of elation followed by tranquility. “Kindness,” he said, “is very good for the kind.

At the end of the baseball game as we shuffled out with the crowds, I said to my kids, “well, it’s good it’s three strikes and you are out of the old ballgame” or we would not be returning.

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