Civility in the age of incivility

Did you know that May is International Civility Awareness Month? The goal is to spread awareness of the meaning of civility and help people to embrace the civility code of conduct: Respect, Restraint and Responsibility.

Saturday night, I attended the District 2 Toastmasters contest. There were seven excellent speakers competing to win and advance to the semi-finals. The winner shared a poignant story about an experience he had at his local grocery store that exemplifies incivility at its worst.

After doing his shopping, Omar was standing in line when he heard the woman in front of him angrily say to the clerk, “why do you have a retard working here? He takes forever to bag my groceries!” Omar was so angry at the rudeness and disrespect this woman exhibited that after speaking his mind he was escorted out of the store. Now, I’m not condoning his unrestrained outburst, but I do applaud him for speaking up.

It turns out the “retarded” man, Carl, was once the store manager until he suffered brain damage after a car accident. As Omar said, “the manager became managed.” But despite his injury, Carl taught Omar what really matters in life – that despite hardship you don’t give up, you embrace life fully and you greet each day with a smile and a love for your fellow human. Omar was grateful to Carl for the lessons.

The impatient woman who yelled at the clerk never took the time to understand Carl’s story, nor to appreciate that the store was giving someone a chance to earn an income. She violated two of the civility codes – respect and restraint.

Our society has gotten more and more uncivil. Part of that is due to there being fewer or no ramifications for bad behavior. Teachers can’t discipline kids, parents are busy making ends meet, celebrities and VIPs are acting badly and no one is calling them on it. Also, with so much socializing happening behind a computer screen we are more easily able to criticize and lash out at others because we can’t witness their pain nor experience the consequences of our bad, anonymous behavior.

Our busy, fast paced, anonymous world makes it much harder to show respect, restraint and to take responsibility. But the rewards are great when we do. Just ask Omar.

Civility costs nothing and buys everything.
    Lady Mary Wortley Montague

Join with me in bringing awareness to the importance of civility this month. There is a wonderful new organization called Civilination. Its mission is to foster an online culture where individuals can fully engage and contribute without fear or threat of abuse. I encourage you to learn more.

What do you think should be done to combat this epidemic of incivility? I’d love your thoughts.

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Andrea Weckerle on May 3, 2011 at 5:46 am

    Hi Arden,

    The story you shared about the grocery story clerk is really powerful, and you hit on one of the reasons incivility has become so prevalent – insufficient social ramifications for bad behavior. Coupled with a lack of personal self-restraint, especially in the online arena, and we see numerous examples of this type of behavior every day.

    That’s why I appreciate you writing about CiviliNation’s mission and providing the link to our news summary (please feel free to check out our full website at Together we can raise awareness about the serious consequences of hostility and work to make positive changes.

    Thanks and best regards,


    Andrea Weckerle, MA, JD

    “Taking a Stand for Civil Digital Discourse”

  2. Patty K on May 3, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Hi Arden. Great question. I think this is an excellent place to apply Gandhi’s advice: “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

    What if Omar had calmly, kindly and civilly explained the situation to that woman? He would have had a positive impact on everyone within earshot. Instead, he blew up and added to the problem.

    I think that we are all role models and have frequent opportunities to demonstrate the kinds of behaviour we’d like to see in others. It might not feel quite as “productive” as ranting or making a scene – and often requires more thought and more courage – but I think it has a greater impact.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  3. Arden Clise on May 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Hi Patty,
    Yes, so true, Omar would have made a bigger and more compelling impact if he had civilly spoken to the woman. And you’re right, it does sometimes take more courage to thoughtfully and calmly share our feelings.

    Thanks for your comment.

  4. Arden Clise on May 3, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    I’m happy to bring awareness to your organization. It’s an important issue.

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