The Value of Civility
Not surprisingly, given my age, I have an assortment of adult nieces, nephews and God-children in their twenties and thirties. It has been a fascinating experience watching each of them grow and become, witnessing their struggles and successes, their choices and at times their good luck unfold and shape their lives. I confess I don’t always agree with them or understand them, but for the most part, they are interesting and engaged young people who embrace a breadth of choices, occupations and interests.
Reagan is my oldest God-daughter. She has a steady job which requires a university degree, not the degree she actually has, but that doesn’t seem to matter. She is widely travelled and is involved in a range of voluntary activities. She has good friends and has made a life with her partner. I am bemused and at times confused by the activity that consumes her leisure time. Reagan is a committed member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Even the name is a challenge. Thankfully most of the time it goes by the name of SCA. Based on the re-enactment of the physical culture of Western Europe during the medieval and renaissance world, the group strives to reproduce and re-enact the lifestyle and pastimes from this time period. Essentially, they dress up in period costume, cook, sew, sing, dance, feast, play and fight in costume according to rules and forms that are strictly followed and are hundreds of years old.
I don’t understand or appreciate the value of my God-daughter spending hours and hours hand sewing twenty buttonholes for a shirt. But on my recent visit to the lace making town of Burano in Italy I had the good sense to ask the lace maker for a lace collar that had been completely hand stitched with completely natural fibres. There’s no point bringing Reagan home a gift to sew to a costume for SCA unless it ticks all the essential requirements.
Around the family table Reagan often finds that no one takes her obsession with SCA very seriously. She is often on the receiving end of a good deal of cynicism and jokes at her expense. When you really listen to her serious discourse about the group there is a consistent thread about the core values of the group: service, creativity, chivalry and civility.There is a distinct emphasis running through the whole organisation embracing honour, courtesy and good manners.
While much of what the SCA offers does not appeal to me as I like the creature comforts of the 21st century, I am enchanted by the idea of a world where civility reigns. Ours would be a better world if all people embraced those core values of honour, courtesy and good manners. Civility is more than just having manners because it involves developing civil attitudes and responsibilities towards one another. Civility leads ultimately to civil discourse and civil duty.
At its heart, civility recognises the basic dignity of all people. It begins with simple things like please, thank-you, excuse me, I’m sorry, may I, could we? If the starting point for every interaction was courtesy I suspect there would be more space for error, more forgiveness and a world less focussed on personal entitlement. It is the art of making a complaint or stating a case without anger, without a focus on being the victor in a situation. Civility is never about winning or losing. Civility, I suspect is sometimes seen as an anachronism in our society but its loss diminishes who we are as individuals and as a society. Most of us don’t want to be knights and ladies at court, thankfully most of our lives are too busy for dress up games. We shouldn’t be too busy to find a spirit of civility in our interactions and to focus our daily efforts on recognising the inherent goodness in others and ourselves.
Dr Joanne Hack
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