Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct

Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct

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by P. M. Forni

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Most people would agree that thoughtful behavior and common decency are in short supply, or simply forgotten in hurried lives of emails, cellphones, and multi-tasking. In Choosing Civility, P. M. Forni identifies the twenty-five rules that are most essential in connecting effectively and happily with others. In clear, witty, and, well...civilized language,

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Most people would agree that thoughtful behavior and common decency are in short supply, or simply forgotten in hurried lives of emails, cellphones, and multi-tasking. In Choosing Civility, P. M. Forni identifies the twenty-five rules that are most essential in connecting effectively and happily with others. In clear, witty, and, well...civilized language, Forni covers topics that include:

* Think Twice Before Asking Favors
* Give Constructive Criticism
* Refrain from Idle Complaints
* Respect Others' Opinions
* Don't Shift Responsibility and Blame
* Care for Your Guests
* Accept and Give Praise

Finally, Forni provides examples of how to put each rule into practice and so make life-and the lives of others-more enjoyable, companionable, and rewarding.

Choosing Civility is a simple, practical, perfectly measured, and quietly magical handbook on the lost art of civility and compassion.

Editorial Reviews

Daniel Buccino
Small but mighty new reference...the only book I can recommend to all audiences....P.M. Forni deserves great acclaim for developing such potent yet easy to digest remedies for many of today's ills.
Edward Hallowell
Choosing Civility is one of those rare gems one never expected to find but always hoped would appear. Professor Forni writes with wit, force, and grace on a subject that has become all too hoity-toity. Forni reclaims manners from the mantlepiece and grounds his advice in the details of everyday life. This book is about how we ought to treat each other. What could be more important than that?
Arthur P. Ciaramicoli
Choosing Civility is a beautiful book that lifts the spirit, warms the heart, and provides clear direction for a balanced life. Dr. Forni gently guides the reader to relationship insights that assure love, joy and meaningful friendship. Anyone interested in living a civil and worthwhile life should read this book.
A professor of Italian literature and the cofounder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, P. M. Forni came to the crucial realization one day that he would rather his students be kind human beings than know Dante. The word civility comes from the Latin civitas, the root also for civilization. How we live together in groups and treat each other on a daily basis is ultimately the foundation of our entire civilization. These 25 rules embody truths that we could all stand to be reminded of: Pay Attention; Acknowledge Others; Think the Best...

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St. Martin's Press
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Edition description:
First Edition
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5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.70(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Choosing Civility

The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct

By P. M. Forni

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2002 P. M. Forni
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-30250-4



Life and Relationships

* * *


— Lucius Annaeus Seneca


— Paul of Tarsus


— Henry James

Here we are at the end of the century, drifting through a heroless age. We have no leaders we can trust, no visions to invest in, no faith to ride. All we have are our own protean moralities, our countless private codes, which we each shape and reshape according to our own selfish needs. We don't dare to think too far ahead, we can't see too far ahead. Here we are, trapped by whatever season we find ourselves enduring, waiting out the weather, staring at a drought sun, stupefied, helpless — or scrambling like fools to make it home before the rain really comes down and the dry river floods and the hills crash into the valley. Where do we find the courage to do what is right?

I came across this passage by novelist Peter Gadol when everybody was getting ready to celebrate the turn of both the century and the millennium. It was a striking description of a malaise with which, to a greater or a lesser extent, many of us were familiar. Gadol's words resonated with me in particular because of my involvement with the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, a cluster of academic and outreach activities aimed at assessing the relevance of civility and good manners in today's society. While working on the Project, I had been giving thought to the widely perceived decline in the quality of social interaction — the so-called coarsening of America.

Gadol's words on the end of the twentieth century apply to the beginning of the new century as well. Constant uncertainty about our identities and our future seems at times our only certainty. Long-established values appear obsolete, but to agree on what the new ones should be is a daunting task. Quite often we don't know where to look for standards against which to measure our efforts to be good citizens of the world. In fact, the notion of standards itself has been growing more and more problematic.

And yet we still need to be able to say yes to some things and no to others as a matter of principle and with enough conviction. We still need to believe in something that will give us our vital daily dose of meaning and motivation. As we grapple with the complexities of our age, I suggest in this book that we agree on one principle: that a crucial measure of our success in life is the way we treat one another every day of our lives.

When we lessen the burden of living for those around us we are doing well; when we add to the misery of the world we are not. To me, this is a simple, practical philosophy that makes sense and feels right. And since I started speaking in public on these issues several years ago, I have discovered that it makes sense and feels right to people from every walk of life and every part of the world. How are we to carry out the business of living day in and day out in accordance with this premise? I propose that as a society we take a new, close look at that intriguing code of behavior based on respect, restraint, and responsibility that we call civility.

M. Scott Peck chose to open his wise guidebook to smart, decent, and loving living with an utterly plain and clear statement. "Life is difficult" is the founding truth of his work, one he connects to "Life is suffering," the first of the Four Noble Truths taught by Buddha. Of course, countless versions of this truth appear in wisdom literature throughout history. "Life is difficult." I like the simplicity of the utterance. We can all benefit from basic truths stated in direct and simple language. In the hasty confusion of our days, we easily lose sight of basic truths. As we fail to make them part of our everyday thinking, we eventually become unable to recognize them clearly and confront them effectively. And so we stumble through life in a cloud of dust raised by our own misguided steps.

When we manage to make real contact with a basic truth, sometimes we are inspired to act upon it, and thus we may change our lives radically and permanently. Greatness is not just in the truth itself but in what we can do with it. "Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult," says M. Scott Peck. Now, we may be able to reach this wisdom and strength or we may not. All of us, however, can find ways to cope effectively with difficulty.

That life is difficult is the founding truth of any book that offers practical help. Millions of pages would not have been written if life were not difficult and we didn't need help coping with its challenges. The message that we want to hear — that we never tire of hearing — is that although life is difficult, it is not unbearable; that there is something relatively simple that we can do to overcome life's difficulty. We are not passive vessels into which pain, anxiety, and sorrow are poured. In fact, we can become effective managers of our actions and emotions. As such, we can reduce the impact of sorrow and unhappiness upon our lives. Although life entails hardship and suffering, we can do something about it — we can always do something about it. Life may be difficult, but serenity, contentment, well-being, and even happiness are not only possible but also within relatively easy reach.

I am convinced that, to a significant extent, life is what our relationships make it. Every page of this book is imbued with this simple conviction. Good relationships make our lives good; bad relationships make our lives bad. We are usually happy (or unhappy) with others. Although at times we can be happy in spite of others, we are usually happy thanks to them, thanks to the good relationships we have with them. To learn how to be happy we must learn how to live well with others, and civility is a key to that. Through civility we develop thoughtfulness, foster effective self-expression and communication, and widen the range of our benign responses. Civility allows us to connect successfully with others. While there is no substitute for healthy self-esteem, we also need to transcend our Selves. Finding a comfortable balance between the two is where everyday wellness and happiness begin, and what civility is all about.

We exist and we perceive our identity not in a vacuum but rather in relation to others. Life is relational. Whether we like it or not, we are wax upon which others leave their mark. When someone sees us as a thing to use or abuse, that becomes part of who we are in our own eyes as well (self-esteem notwithstanding). When we are on the receiving end of an act of kindness, we feel validated. We translate that act into a very simple, very powerful unspoken message to ourselves: I am not alone, I have value and my life has meaning.

What Is Civility?

* * *


— Sujata Massey

For many years literature was my life. I spent most of my time reading, teaching, and writing on Italian fiction and poetry. One day, while lecturing on the Divine Comedy, I looked at my students and realized that I wanted them to be kind human beings more than I wanted them to know about Dante. I told them that if they knew everything about Dante and then they went out and treated an elderly lady on the bus unkindly, I'd feel that I had failed as a teacher. I have given dozens of lectures and workshops on civility in the last few years, and I have derived much satisfaction from addressing audiences I could not have reached speaking on literature. I know, however, that reading literature can develop the kind of imagination without which civility is impossible. To be fully human we must be able to imagine others' hurt and to relate it to the hurt we would experience if we were in their place. Consideration is imagination on a moral track.

Sometimes the participants in my workshops write on a sheet of paper what civility means to them. In no particular order, here are a number of key civility-related notions I have collected over the years from those sheets:

Respect for others
Community service
Golden rule
Respect of others' feelings
Respect of others' opinions
Table manners
Being accommodating
Being agreeable
Going out of one's way
Lending a hand
Abiding by rules
Good citizenship

This list tells us that

• Civility is complex.

• Civility is good.

• Whatever civility might be, it has to do with courtesy, politeness, and good manners.

• Civility belongs in the realm of ethics.

These four points have guided me in writing this book. Like my workshop participants, I am inclusive rather than exclusive in defining civility. Courtesy, politeness, manners, and civility are all, in essence, forms of awareness. Being civil means being constantly aware of others and weaving restraint, respect, and consideration into the very fabric of this awareness. Civility is a form of goodness; it is gracious goodness. But it is not just an attitude of benevolent and thoughtful relating to other individuals; it also entails an active interest in the well-being of our communities and even a concern for the health of the planet on which we live.

Saying "please" and "thank you"; lowering our voice whenever it may threaten or interfere with others' tranquillity; raising funds for a neighborhood renovation program; acknowledging a newcomer to the conversation; welcoming a new neighbor; listening to understand and help; respecting those different from us; responding with restraint to a challenge; properly disposing of a piece of trash left by someone else; properly disposing of dangerous industrial pollutants; acknowledging our mistakes; refusing to participate in malicious gossip; making a new pot of coffee for the office machine after drinking the last cup; signaling our turns when driving; yielding our seat on a bus whenever it seems appropriate; alerting the person sitting behind us on a plane when we are about to lower the back of our seat; standing close to the right-side handrail on an escalator; stopping to give directions to someone who is lost; stopping at red lights; disagreeing with poise; yielding with grace when losing an argument, these diverse behaviors are all imbued with the spirit of civility.

Civility, courtesy, politeness, and manners are not perfect synonyms, as etymology clearly shows.

Courtesy is connected to court and evoked in the past the superior qualities of character and bearing expected in those close to royalty. Etymologically, when we are courteous we are courtierlike. Although today we seldom make this connection, courtesy still suggests excellence and elegance in bestowing respect and attention. It can also suggest deference and formality.

To understand politeness, we must think of polish. The polite are those who have polished their behavior. They have put some effort into bettering themselves, but they are sometimes looked upon with suspicion. Expressions such as "polite reply," "polite lie," and "polite applause" connect politeness to hypocrisy. It is true that the polite are inclined to veil their own feelings to spare someone else's. Self-serving lying, however, is always beyond the pale of politeness. If politeness is a quality of character (alongside courtesy, good manners, and civility), it cannot become a flaw. A suave manipulator may appear to be polite but is not.

When we think of good manners we often think of children being taught to say "please" and "thank you" and chew with their mouths closed. This may prevent us from looking at manners with the attention they deserve. Manner comes from manus, the Latin word for "hand." Manner and manners have to do with the use of our hands. A manner is the way something is done, a mode of handling. Thus manners came to refer to behavior in social interaction — the way we handle the encounter between Self and Other. We have good manners when we use our hands well — when we handle others with care. When we rediscover the connection of manner with hand, the hand that, depending on our will and sensitivity, can strike or lift, hurt or soothe, destroy or heal, we understand the importance — for children and adults alike — of having good manners.

Civility's defining characteristic is its ties to city and society. The word derives from the Latin civitas, which means "city," especially in the sense of civic community. Civitas is the same word from which civilization comes. The age-old assumption behind civility is that life in the city has a civilizing effect. The city is where we enlighten our intellect and refine our social skills. And as we are shaped by the city, we learn to give of ourselves for the sake of the city. Although we can describe the civil as courteous, polite, and well mannered, etymology reminds us that they are also supposed to be good citizens and good neighbors.

Respect in Action

* * *

Living according to the principle of respect for persons is difficult. And yet we can do it, thanks in part to our ability to identify with others and — at least to a certain extent — to feel what they feel. This ability is empathy.

The extraordinary relevance of the rules of civility to our lives is that by following them we put into everyday practice the principle of respect for persons. Civility does the work of empathy. With a training in civility we develop the invaluable habit of considering that no action of ours is without consequences for others and anticipating what those consequences will be. We learn to act in a responsible and caring way. Choosing civility means choosing to do the right thing for others — for the "city." The by-product of doing justice to others is the enrichment of our own lives. I hope that we will never tire of rediscovering that being kind is good for the kind.

Yes, we live in an age of radical individualism and cultural relativism. Yes, the lack of meaningful coherence in our lives can be disheartening. And yes, sometimes we feel lost because of the dizzying amount and variety of information readily available in a world enveloped by the uninterrupted buzz of the electronic media. But we need not succumb to bafflement, indifference, or despair. "Our countless private codes which we each shape and reshape according to our own selfish needs," to use Peter Gadol's words, are far from being our only viable reference for conducting the business of living. We needn't "scramble like fools." One thing we can do is act upon the realization that the quality of our lives depends upon our ability to relate and connect. Harmonious and caring relationships foster a happy life. In order to build such relationships, we need the respect, consideration, and kindness that we easily grant to and receive from our fellow humans when we are civil.

Happiness and the Mind

* * *


— Marcus Aurelius


— Leo Tolstoy

The Bible, Gautama Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William James are among the most frequently quoted sources of this momentous notion: our happiness does not spring from the events of our lives but rather from how we choose to respond to those events. Many students of human happiness see life satisfaction as a product of the thinking Self.


Excerpted from Choosing Civility by P. M. Forni. Copyright © 2002 P. M. Forni. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Choosing Civility 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
LisaSunnyDay More than 1 year ago
Choosing Civility is a must-read, must-have for life. I adopted this book as a text in a series of University courses I teach that focus on the understanding and development of the self in the fall semester and the understanding of others in the spring semester. It is one of the most valuable tools to help examine how we should treat one another and why we do what we choose to do in life. It addresses the simple daily interactions that are a part of one's world, but seem to be missing today. This book helps us to consider how we should attend to our interpersonal and intrapersonal lives by helping us to visualize and identify the traits we want to strive to incorporate into our lives right now. It can be seen as a rule book for living in a world of people. I highly recommend it to help bring self-awareness and to help us make better CHOICES about just who we want to be and to live more conscious lives.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
VPL More than 1 year ago
Choosing Civility: The Twenty Five Rules for Considerate Conduct by P.M. Forni, was in my opinion, a well written and informative public press novel suited for any personalities liking. Forni, the creator of the civility project at John Hopkins University, has divulged tremendous research and effort into the learning and processing of incivility throughout society. He had originally obtained his undergraduate degree from a University in his native Italy. He finished up his education by earning his doctorate from UCLA in Roman Literature. Do not let that fool you into thinking he may not have been credible to instruct others on how to act civilly. The book is aimed at the general public and I believe it does an incredible job at achieving that goal. It is not written to an academic only type standard; rather it is tailored to anyone capable of understanding around a high school level writing style. By first glancing at the title, one may be lead to believe this book is centered on a generic list of rules instructing you how to act. This is not at all the case. This book was written with humorous real life scenarios that you can or have seen yourself in. He used vivid imagery to gain your recognition of incivility, and then pointed out to you how you should be acting instead. There was multiple times where I had laughed out loud while reading. The comedic tone to his writing, along with his real life situations had not only made the read enjoyable and beneficial, but fast as well. I would highly recommend this book to anyone one looking for a few great lessons on incivility, a quick and insightful read, or just a plain old enjoyable form of literature.
L0vi3 More than 1 year ago
With the book "Choosing Civility" by P.M. Forni you're going to need a highlighter for this one. I marked up my whole book. It's filled with good advice. Yes it's a small little book but there is so much to learn from. Some examples of nice simple rules for being civil," Pay Attention," "Speak kindly," "Be a Considerate Guest," and so on. Forni gives good meaning to his twenty-five rules in short descriptions. It's an easy book to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So necessary in the mean world we live in! It helps us choose civility!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book. A good gift for graduates, someone starting a new job, or for any occasion. Self improvement enthusiasts should have this book in their collection. Some of the things the author talks about are both simple and profound. For example, one of the rules is Be Inclusive. The author encourages you to reevaluate your dislikes, try speaking and listening to somebody you do not like, and to show an interest in cultures besides your own. You will find out that being an outstanding human being is complex. The publisher describes this book as magical. I agree.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Various levels of inconsiderate behavior seem to have become daily habits in our goal-oriented society. Whether it's malicious office gossip or road rage, such incivility essentially contributes to decreased personal and professional satisfaction. But in today's fast-paced world, it seems a constant challenge to maintain poise and cordiality in the face of everyday difficulties. With the author's preceding claim that he is a 'flawed messenger bearing a good message', P.M. Forni offers a combination of common sense and ethics which culminate in a rediscovery of strategies to become more sensitive and considerate towards eachother. His thoughtful handbook Choosing Civility is more than a simple manners guide or book of etiquette rules, but an unearthing of the inherent values that somehow got trampled upon in our modern day race towards success. This enjoyable and insightful book is worth anyone's time who values their physiological health, interpersonal relationships, job satisfaction, or company's bottom line.