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It’s not you, it’s me: the problem of incivility

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We regularly decry this or that latest episode of incivility, and can thereby find temporary satisfaction. Maybe we feel heartened to see the uncivil criticized, the critique itself a reassurance that incivilities still meet some resistance. Maybe we find relief in collective condemnation of the uncivil, solidarity in shared disapproval. Or maybe we just experience atavistic delight – if the uncivil offend our sense of good and right, it can feel good and right to see them publicly pilloried for it. But these satisfactions steer our thinking about civility away from a better target. The incivilities that ought to concern us first and most should be our own.The early Confucians were passionate advocates for civility. Contemporary readers may receive this fact with dismay. It is likely to stimulate associations with finger-wagging scolds condemning others’ uncivil crimes and rude misbehavior. But Confucian advocacy is framed firmly in the first person: I should be civil. I should cultivate in myself the habits of emotion, mind, and conduct to make respectful and considerate engagement with others my steady norm. This is an approach to civility sorely missing from our popular discourse. Perhaps one reason for this is that my own failures of civility are so much less satisfying to consider than yours.The incivilities of others largely lie outside my control, but my own are problems over which I can exercise some power. To take myself in hand will entail sacrificing the fast, frenetic pleasure of saying just what I think in favor of slower tact and care. It will entail cultivating better habits and reflexes where others displease me. It will entail trying to hold fast to pro-social values that recognize our dependencies on each other even amidst our many differences. Most of all, it requires an unsettling, introspective honesty about what moves and motivates me.When I consider what prompts my incivilities, I find a murky mess. Absent are the crisp explanations I give. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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