Civility: The Only Worthwhile Way to Live

“Health is a process…”

“…A healthy organization—whether a marriage, a family, or a business corporation—is not one with an absence of problems, but one that is actively and effectively addressing or healing its problems.”

     M. Scott Peck grabbed me with this statement in the second chapter of his book, A World Waiting to be Born: Civility Rediscovered, and reminded me of the necessary pain that facing hard situations requires, if we are to heal. Whether it’s that little lie you told to your spouse once (which has now snowballed), or the real reason you can’t say “no” to your supervisor and it’s costing you and your family’s well-being, or why you justify taking advantage of loopholes in some places but not others. If becoming healthy is always a choice and a process for organizations of ANY size—shouldn’t it be possible for our society to participate in a process of healing, as well? “Civility,” he writes, “is ultimately healing behavior.” And if there’s one thing we all seem to agree upon these days in this country it’s that we need some healing to happen.

     But what IS civility? Just having good manners and political correctness? Not by a long shot.

I love his definition.  (Sounds like an echo from what we heard last week in the TED talk from Steven Petrow): Civility is CONSCIOUSLY MOTIVATED ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR THAT IS ETHICAL IN SUBMISSION TO A HIGHER POWER (pp. 53-54).

What?

Yup. Civility, he says, requires 4 types of consciousness (or intentional awareness) to be used simultaneously, as we make choices in words and action every day:

  1. The self
  2. The other
  3. The organization (committed relationship, family, collegial network, etc.)
  4. And God (or however you think of the Essence or Energy Field in which all of us live and move, and which has created and animated life and its relationships throughout time and history)

When asked why he felt that #4 was essential to the equation, Peck said it was because when the rubber meets the road, and making a civil choice to do the right thing is really going to cost you something, it’s too easy to objectify others rather than seeing them as equally sacred creatures—unless you put God into the mix, as well.

Next week I’ll give you some good story material. In the meantime, it might be time to dust off your copy of The Road Less Travelled as you ponder his closing to chapter 5:

     “The Apostle Paul also said that it is terrifying to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). That falling—the submission required—may be excruciating. Don’t listen to any false prophet who tells you that the ethical life can somehow be a perfectly comfortable one…”

     “…The definition of civility implies that the higher authority, or God’s will—the ethical imperative—is frequently at odds with either the individual’s will or the organization’s goals or both. And so it is. We often must work out such conflicts in fear and trembling. But remember our starting point—the fact that health is often a painful process. Civility is never painless…”

“…In fact, it is usually more painful to be civil than it is to be uncivil. Incivility comes easily. Nonetheless, relatively and understandably rare though it may be, civility is the path of growth, the road to personal and collective salvation or healing. Civility is hardly the only way to live, but it is the only way that is worthwhile.”

THANK YOU, Dr. Peck, for your refreshing reminder that this universe is not here for us to use in making ourselves comfortable. It’s not bad to be comfortable, of course, but if we’re really blessed we might just get to leave this place better than we found it.

Excerpts and paraphrasing from Peck, M. Scott. (1993). A World Waiting to be Born: Civility Rediscovered. Chps. 1-5. Bantam Books, NY, New York.

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