The price of civility

I was bred to be polite. If there were a thoroughbred stable for polite people, I would have been a Kentucky blue blood despite my Ohio roots. I sometimes even bless myself when I sneeze.

It’s a knee-jerk reaction that I blame on—who else—my mother. Her instructions in etiquette were a large dose of, “What will people think if you don’t know which fork to use?” and a modicum of trying to instill in her children one basic tenet: The price of civility is low.

She was right, of course. It does not take much to hold a door open for the person behind you or wait your turn in line.

It seems, today, that most of the world did not have the benefit of my mother’s tutelage. In addition to needing a few lessons in civility, they must all be walking around with wrinkled shirts and eyes permanently crossed—both things she would have set straight immediately (“Don’t cross your eyes! They’ll stay that way.”) God only knows how many of you also run with scissors. Egads.

I am finding civility in short supply this week.

First, I encountered the woman working the phones for the Walgreens Customer Care line. I thought I was calling my local pharmacy, but they baited and switched me with robo-options into some national line. By the way, I think they named the Customer Care Line with as much irony as possible. There was no “Care” given.

I had lost some medication on a trip and needed to refill my prescription early to make up for it. The cranky woman on the phone spent five minutes telling me what she could not do for me. “I can’t do that. No, not that either.” When I mentioned that my local pharmacy team had done those very things previously—willingly and with a smile—she was silent. As I wished her a fine evening, I told her I would instead deal with my locals.

Then, I called our pediatrician’s office. When the receptionist inquired as to why my son needed to see the doctor, I launched into a brief (I’m a journalist—I know brief) explanation. Ten seconds in, she abruptly cut me off. When I later accepted the time she offered for the appointment, she again asked me why my son needed to be seen. In a treacly voice, I said, “For the very reason I was explaining when you so hastily cut me off mid-sentence.”

This morning, after school drop-off, I watched a minivan mother zoom impatiently around me, to drive highway speed down a residential street, her toddler’s arm poking out of the window while flapping in the breeze. She shook her head as if I was the crazy one for driving the speed limit while kids were walking to school and buses.

In contrast, I waited patiently as I stood in line at the store to buy pineapple. The express checkout was anything but, as the elderly woman in front of me launched into a conversation about her hot flashes with the mid-sixties female cashier. I smiled to myself and kept my zen about me, as I did not want to mirror the careless “Care” rep, the less-than-welcoming receptionist, the suburban mother on the edge. When the senior citizen finally left, she was smiling, as was the cashier. It took maybe two to three minutes of my time to wait patiently. But the payoff for this woman, who seemed not to have many people to talk to, seemed worth it.

I waited behind a parked car to let someone go by in an oncoming lane on my street. Lo and behold, he flashed me the peace sign for doing so. A fellow zen traveler.

Let’s unite, shall we? Those of us with our zen about us today, let’s ooze it wherever we happen to be standing, sitting, driving, talking.

I’m not always zen. I can be cranky. I can be rushed. I can be persnickety. Usually, though, not without provocation. If I’m mindful, my issues don’t usually spill onto those around me. Which is as it should be—we each have our own. No need to pile more on each other.

It took no more time, really, for me to allow our sweet little old lady friend to vent about her girl problems than it did the Uncaring Care Line Poster Girl to finish her litany of all the things she could not do for me. And yet, the results of those encounters felt totally different. Sweet little old lady walked out smiling, having had one of her few interactions outside what seems like a lonely home. And I, mildly annoyed, had to put my feelings in check because of the emotional vomiters of the world. Just my little nickname for people who spread their impatience, troubles, general distemper, with the rest of us. I am not yet enough of a zen warrior that I can just silently offer them light and peace. I still get triggered sometimes into annoyance.

My family members will attest to the fact that we rarely won an argument with Phyllis (aka Mom). Probably because she was right a lot. This time is no exception.

The price of civility is low. Let’s not play small. Pay up, Bucko. You can afford it.

And for God’s sake, keep your zen about you.





46 Comments Add yours

  1. reocochran says:

    I love this final word, K.
    You should put it on refrigerator magnets!! “Keep your zen about you.”

  2. Visit NZ, you will be surprised with the level of civility here. I feel on many days that there couldn’t be anywhere more civil.

    1. candidkay says:

      Can we import all the Kiwis to help spread the vibe as we try to survive our current election cycle?:)

      1. No I don’t think it will work. NZ has a polite vibe to it. I have never been to the states but it is shown as highly cutthroat.

        NZ is more of a retirement country

  3. Amy says:

    Like you, I try always to keep my zen about me, even when the world at large seems half mad with incivility. Sometimes I wonder whether the rudest people might just be the ones who need our kindness the most…

    Another thoughtful post. Thank you, my friend! xoxo

    1. candidkay says:

      That sounds like your generous self! You’re probably right on the rudest. I just wish I could keep my zen about me enough to be as kind as you about it:).

    2. candidkay says:

      XXOO:). Thank you!

  4. Aunt Beulah says:

    I’ve learned a new motto in this entertaining and thought-provoking post: The price of civility is low. Though I may not embroider it on a pillow, I will keep it in mind. It’s good advice.

    1. candidkay says:

      I think we should go for the pillow and put it front and center on sofa!:)

  5. fritzdenis says:

    There are a lot of kamikaze drivers in Orlando, and my reaction varies according to my state of mind. When I’m calm I see all of us flowing down the road to our destinations, a unity of folks trying to get from Point A to B. On bad days I curse the guy who ran through a red light and tried to spear me. I’m from Ohio too, and I think that civility used to be taught there with greater emphasis. I was shocked when I moved to Wilmington, Delaware by the rudeness of a phone company employee who yelled at me when I called to ask about getting a phone book, and by a post office clerk who was contemptuous of me when I came in to mail a package. I wasn’t used to hostility from strangers in a professional setting, but learned to adjust my expectations to a lower setting.

    1. candidkay says:

      Ah, my fellow Buckeye–little did we know at the time we were raised in the Polite capital of the world:). I was shocked when I moved to Chicago, after hearing how friendly everyone was, at what would have been termed rude back home.

  6. Roy McCarthy says:

    I know, I know. I do my best to be a model citizen and assist if possible. Too often though, maybe in traffic situations, it’s dog-eat-dog and there’s little other than halo-polishing in it. And if I step aside once more and let someone else through a door first and they can’t even acknowledge the fact I’m gonna punch them in the face instead 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh Roy, you’ve made me laugh:). I’m completely in your corner! When I’m rushed and yet take the time to let someone into traffic or hold a door–and they completely ignore the gesture, as if they are entitled royalty– I flame:). Isn’t it funny how, when we’re trying to do something showing our patience and tolerance, a lack of acknowledgement can send us into the exact opposite place?

  7. George says:

    The lack of civility, respect, and common courtesies has become an epidemic, and I don’t think it’s going to get better any time soon.

    1. candidkay says:

      I am holding firm in belief that a sea change begins with individuals:).

      1. George says:

        We can hope..:)

  8. srbottch says:

    I love that message, ‘the price of civility…’ Just be an example and the world will change to be like you. Right?

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I wish it were that easy–on both sides!:). But would be a great scenario, wouldn’t it?

  9. Great post. The cost is low but not many people want to pay it. Sometimes when I talk my mom comes out instead. It might come off as snarky/judgy but I now I realize it was her way to teach me “manners”. I opt for zen when I run into opportunities to lead by example, granted not always successfully.

    1. candidkay says:

      I hear you on the mother bit:). That imprint sticks!

  10. Well said! Love those days when nothing (or not much) gets to me, and patience abounds. The customer service training I received when I was a bank teller a few decades back, still comes in handy.

    1. candidkay says:

      I bet it does! Having worked in corporate comms and marketing, the phone rep’s lack of basic customer skills really amazed me. I know they all go through training!

  11. You have had a very bad run of rudeness coming your way. I am a vicar’s daughter and my mother also practised and preached good manners. Not for a minute would I disagree with your point in this blog! As you say, the cost of courtesy is low, the value is high, and good manners are essentially a form of respect. On the other hand, the protagonist of my new novel (Fixing Mrs Philpott) is over-reliant on politeness as the ultimate virtue, with dire consequences. Politeness is valuable but sometimes — it’s not enough.

    1. candidkay says:

      Well, now I want to know more about Mrs. Philpott! I guess I’ll have to read your book:).

  12. My ex MIL was persnickety. I feel like people who have gone through a situation that required patience and thoughtfulness to survive (without throttling somebody) are better at this than those who have not. I find myself saying “if I’m late, I’m late”. Rather than stressing over lineups and inconveniences.

    1. candidkay says:

      I hadn’t thought of it that way! I guess you and I would know a lot about patience and survival:).

  13. I like that word “persnickety!”we all have those days when we are not so civil, patient or zen. You are right Kristine, it doesn’t take much, a bit of self-control here, and there, definitely makes the world a nicer place to live in. 🙏🏻

    1. candidkay says:

      It sounds easy. Just the completion that can be tough!

  14. Let me see…we currently face a lunar eclipse (so the lead up is going to be very emotional, blocking your ‘sight’ and an ‘aha’ moment or two), plus Mars is doing his best to rock the boat, so that is emotions at rocket pace, while clashing with Neptune….big clashing.
    Which brings us back to Zen 😀
    Breeeeeathe Kristine, your Zen is there…aka the old woman…but the receptionists are also pretty tired too….so your Zen is being tested, just to show YOU the beauty within you 🙂 You can throw a wobbly next week, when she will have much patience, after learning about this week 😀

    1. candidkay says:

      What is a wobbly, Mark? And wow–had no idea the planets were so in flux. But truly, something was in the air this AM . . . lot of anger out there on road!

      1. That’s what a ‘wobbly’ is…it is when you lose control and get angry. You usually look back and go..’was that me?’ because it is so out of character 😀
        And yes, the planets are seriously doing their thing. This particular eclipse is one of those ‘push comes to shove’ IF we are not facing up to things as we should. It is a big cycle change and the universe, with great love, wants us to release ‘old’ things we are hanging onto, understand them, and then move into what we really want in our hearts, instead of constantly treading water.
        Enjoy the swim 😀

      2. candidkay says:

        Ah. No wonder I’ve been wanting to purge closets, drawer contents, old energy:).

  15. Chris says:

    I really hope that Peace sign was me, but I can’t say for sure. 🙂 Regardless, you get bonus points for treacly.

    1. candidkay says:

      Yes, I made admitted word nerd :-). It wasn’t you, Chris! So you must have a fellow peacenik out there :-).

  16. Su Leslie says:

    Lovely, lovely post. I think our mothers went to the same school of child-rearing. Like you, I can be impatient (usually accompanied with some colourful, under-my-breath language), but like you I am learning to be more patient with people — and with myself. 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Well, the colorful language just makes us-well-more colorful, that’s all :-).

  17. Elyse says:

    Beautiful! We can all take a moment.

    I especially appreciate your patience with the chatty woman in line ahead of you. I can recall time when, living in Europe and not speaking the language, that I would just keep talking to anyone who could understand me. (They were all wonderful, I will add!) It’s hard having no one to talk with no matter what the reason!

    1. candidkay says:

      I have to treasure the times I am patient to make up for the times I’m not!

      1. Elyse says:

        Well, yeah. Me too!

  18. suemclaren24 says:

    So so true. So many people are wrapped up in their own self-centered worlds, oblivious to the needs or cares of others (viz. faces in their phones). As you, I experience the in-a-hurry driver whose own agenda is more important that anyone or anything else; it annoys me (am not perfect yet either!) and is often dangerous. There’s the person who thinks their phone conversation is on the Top Ten. Etc. Then someone holds a door open for me and my day changes in a very positive way.

    1. candidkay says:

      It’s amazing to me how much influence we all have on each other’s day. One or two kind acts can make all the difference.

  19. Tom Schultz says:

    A 19th century practitioner of zen, William James, said: “The art of wisdom is often the art of knowing what to overlook.”

    1. candidkay says:

      Exactly, Tom. Which is why I freely admit I’m not a bodhisattva yet:). Still working on the overlooking bit . . .

      1. Tom Schultz says:

        bodhisattva…admit that sent me to the online dictionary. good word!

      2. candidkay says:

        They don’t call me word nerd for nothing:).

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