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Civility comes from a word meaning enclosure. The dictionary reads, “the rude inhabitants of antiquity fortified their towns with hedges, stakes or palisades.” It protected them and their way of life. This is an illustration children can understand. Civility is a metaphoric enclosure of behavior that preserves a civilization.

Civility is: 1. The state of being civilized; refinement of manners; 2. Good breeding; politeness; complaisance; courtesy; decorum of behavior in the treatment of others, accompanied with kind offices, and attention to their wants and desires (American Dictionary of the English Language).

A few years ago I took a trip that included a stay in Tokyo. The civility of everyone we encountered was very impressive. Upon our return, the plane landed in LAX where the volume of voices was markedly different as was the coarseness of language and manners. I know that particular environment is an exception, but I still felt dismay.

Civility does not mean absence of disagreement. It represents a respectful, polite exchange with those with whom we disagree. How can we teach our children to be civil?

1. Have children role-play conversations with opposing opinions, such as discussing which game they want to play in a calm, polite way. Help them understand that listening involves understanding the other viewpoint, not just waiting your turn.

2. Model civility. A child learns how to handle conflict by watching their parents in tense situations, such as when a cashier makes a mistake, when someone cuts in front of them in a line, or when someone publicly disagrees with them. This is not a one time example, but a life-time commitment.

3. Teach common courtesies, such as holding a door for the person behind them, shaking hands with others, and thanking people for kindnesses.

4. Help children verbalize their emotions: “I feel angry,” “I feel sad,” or “I feel scared.”

5. Teach your children appropriate and acceptable ways to communicate online. Although their identity may be anonymous, or unknown, it is not license to be rude. All conversations should be conducted with respect.

6. Don’t tolerate bullying, teasing, or gossiping. Feelings are often hurt irreparably as the result of what someone said about me to someone else.

Utah launched the Civility and Community 2011 initiative in January. Their website has several interviews and videos. Here is an excerpt from an interview between fyi (U of U online news) and U of U staff member, Linda Dunn, director of the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center, and a member of the committee that organized the group for civility:

FYI: What do you understand as the reasons for the decline of civility in recent years?
LINDA DUNN: As technology has progressed, our society has had more opportunity to communicate openly and publicly. This increase of communication has given us the opportunity to share widely a proliferation of inappropriate, indecent, and uncivil dialogue. Between television political debates, sit-com mentality, and violent video games we have seen the behaviors that emerge from such a saturation of communication. In addition, stress is a large factor in people snapping, bring rude, and less civil towards each other. We certainly are living in a time that has provoked more stress and tension in individual people’s lives.

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