Civility & Decency: Hallmarks of Personal & Social Cultivation


It takes little effort to notice the frequency of low-level behaviors demonstrated individually and societally these days. Regardless of whether they stem from matters of politics, social decorum, religion, gender, race or innumerable kindred topics, they all get rendered into a kind of perverse fuel that is disseminated through sensationalistic social media and press outlets. These, in turn, become converted to equally toxic reactive outrage.

In fact, one can’t turn on a computer or read a news site without being inundated by an appalling glut of boorish anecdotes, deviant crimes or sad demonstrations of humankind’s capacity for inhumanity — topics subsequently regurgitated by anyone boasting an opinion and means to express it.

We’re almost conditioned to seek evidence of social and global improvement yet, upon finding so little, bemoan its lack and await the string of inflammatory responses sure to follow. Such behaviors, rather than being corrective or solution-oriented, merely promote cyclic patterns of negativity that generate further corrosive practices and incendiary attitudes.

Leading by example
Lamentably, the concept of leading by example appears to be losing valuable traction. Many fail to recognize how their actions impact others or, if they do grasp this, they don’t care what kind of activities they put forward.

People manifest base attributes when they suffer from cause-effect blindness, ethical ignorance, or when those wielding social influence fail to exhibit common courtesy or basic decency. Standards for such seem to lack relevance and are wistfully mourned by those yearning for more civilized times.

This engenders an almost rhetorical question: Why teach children self-control or rules of respectful engagement when adults in all strata of society increasingly fail to evince those qualities themselves? We’ve become afflicted by a dearth of high-minded deportment and substituted it with quasi neo-apocalyptic, Mad Max modes of violent expression.

Devolution, not evolution appears to be the trend.

Why? In part because our current President acts like a bad grade-school child. But his actions find significant resonance because mean-spirited, regressive attitudes are quick-fix, fear-based responses to the complexities that arise from an emerging global society. The challenges evoked by shifting populations and cultural diversity have rocked the foundation of previously familiar nationalistic stability — and not just in the U.S.A. Multiple countries are pressed to address the repercussion of technological, environmental and social changes.

The world is in flux — and people either expand to embrace it wisely or contract to contain it in a death throe. The truth is, however, this process can’t be denied. We are not going backwards.

Empowered to create
No one person can stop wide-spread negativism by themselves; fortunately, everyone can do so individually and collectively. How? By being willing to behave correctly and doing so as often as possible. What does this entail? It means recognizing that each of us is empowered to create.

What we do, say and think does impact us and the world around us. We must be mindful, then, of our power and how to exercise it. The equation is not complicated: If you want a better society or world, then act, speak and think in ways that beget harmony and uplifting benefit. Not doing so elicits the unenviable opposite.

Sadly, we often fail to see how we unconsciously create the very things we wish to avoid. For instance, when we strive for peace angrily, or when we seek social equity through blame and shame, we foster the very adversity we sought to eradicate. Therefore, we must exercise the universal precepts of doing no harm, being kind, and treating others as we’d wish to be treated. Sounds simplistic, but confronting base instincts is seldom easy.

Doing as suggested doesn’t require anything sophisticated. It can be done simply by shifting how you interact with others. If you aren’t doing so already, learn to pay attention, be kind, exercise courtesy, and engage thoughtfully. In other words, be respectful. Replace autopilot mode with sympathetic listening and amiable interchange. Develop the ability to commune with others, not just communicate.

This can change the world one person at a time.

Consider this: Listening is more than just hearing words. It requires understanding — tuning in to the tones, expressions, thoughts or feelings that exist behind words. These must be weighed to grasp the full picture of what’s going on. Next, respond after considering how your thoughts, speech or actions could be delivered and what their impact might be. Strive to speak when the time is right; act from a place of truthful benevolence.

If this seems too unwieldy, just be kind — doing only that which won’t harm others or oneself. Like any skill, this becomes easier with practice and the results are so worthwhile.

Personal and cultural development have many features but, at their core, require embracing unity. We’re all in this together. Literally. There is no escaping the actuality that everyone, consciously or not, contributes to how the world is shaped. Again, if you wish to see a better society or planet, behave properly wherever you are. Refuse the influence of those who spread ignorance and defile virtue.

Be a light in the world — even if it’s just a tiny corner. Model civility, demonstrate decency. Be polite, be kind, be thoughtful, be courteous, have manners. We each have the obligation to be mindful stewards of our lives, as well as the planet. Since the divine dwells in all, your honorable behavior not only elevates yourself, but it makes this world a finer place to live in and, subsequently, serves The Creator favorably. 

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Rev. Alan L. Pritz
Rev. Alan Pritz is an Interfaith Minister, disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, and author of Pocket Guide To Meditation (Crossing Press) and Meditation As a Way of Life: Philosophy & Practice (Quest). Rev. Alan has taught meditation, yoga and related matters for 36+ years. Learn more at


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