Talking about civility in America

July 11, 2014

Talking about civility in America

We have been busy this week fine-tuning our annual survey on Civility in America. This will be our fifth year. I find it so easy to get worked up about all the incivility that gets covered in the news every day and how it hurts America’s reputation. As we work to narrow down which areas we want to cover this year, it’s easier to focus on the daily acts of incivility and not the magnanimous good deeds that show up when we are least suspecting them. 

On my way to work yesterday, two small moments of civility crossed my path and brightened the day. A window washer who was applying his squeegee to one of the entrance doors at the Citicorp building on Third Avenue and 54th Street stopped washing the door and opened it for me to exit. I had been approaching another door because I did not want to interrupt him doing his job but with a sweeping gesture, he put down his squeegee and opened the door. I went through with a big smile and thank you. It was a great start to the day. He actually noticed me coming his way. Living in NY, it is easy to feel invisible but not that day. Continuing on with my early morning routine, I then went to my local coffee bar where I typically order a large coffee and fruit cup. In my great haste to get to the office (always rushing), I put my fruit cup on the counter while someone else was paying for their breakfast and the cashier rung up my fruit cup with her order. Oops. Since she paid with a credit card, it was already rung up when we both realized what happened. The woman turned to me and said, “No problem. I’ll pay for it. I don’t mind.” I responded, “No no no.” But then I decided to let it be. After all, isn’t an act of civility meant to be noticed and received graciously. Wasn’t I now meant to be part of the paying-it-forward daisy chain and expected to do a good deed for someone else that day? So there I was, the recipient of paying it forward and now responsible for bequeathing an act of kindness to another. Civility in America could happen to anyone, anywhere. It happens. Americans are not so rude and uncivil, after all. 

Of course, I was then confronted with having to do something nice for someone else or the good deed would lose its potency.  I did say thank you more often during the day, complimented someone on their great presentation, enjoyed my colleagues even more than I do and talked to someone I did not know in the elevator. And then I ran into my daughter on the way home and we locked arms and strode down the street in our leafy neighborhood. And when a young couple with a new baby passed me in front of my home in Brooklyn later that evening, I told the new dad that he had an absolutely beautiful beard (which he did). A big bushy one that was long and dense and stood out in the world of beards. It was an artisanal beard, a Brooklyn-bred one. He was clearly not expecting me to comment on his facial hair but he smiled and I was glad I said something! All in all, it was a very good day. And to think it all started with a squeegee too. 

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross
lesliegainesross@gmail.com

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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