Civility and Polite Behavior:
How Do They Relate?

Friends Chatting Over Coffee

Getting along with others concerns us all. Polite behavior affects our personal interactions, while civility broadens and overarches more formally into the actions that affect others more publicly.

A parent might say, “Be polite so that you can make friends and others will like you.” Getting older and seeing ourselves as part of groups, we appreciate that choosing to be polite is also a civil thing to do.

Controlling expressions of anger or hatred, the hard-to-relate to antisocial passions, are an important part of learning to live in society, in civility with others.

Being in Civil Society

Ideally, living in civil society, we interact in polite, courteous, and mannerly ways.  Of course, we have our views and reasons for thinking as we do.  Being civil makes us more public-minded, aware that others, too, have the right to their views.  Our polite behaviors are the ways in which we personally demonstrate our concerns for others beyond ourselves—even people we don’t know.  When we are civil, we are more formally polite in speech and behavior.

A pet peeve of mine is to equate politeness only with niceness.  In discussions, we are allowed to agree or disagree with others, and we can be socially polite when doing so.  Being polite does not mean we necessarily agree with others or hold back our views.  The decision is always situational, relational, and contextual!  We use reason and take a pause as needed to gather thoughts and form a response.  This is all appropriate for civility.

Actions of Civility and Polite Behavior

Part of being in civil society requires us to know what is current in terms of being etiquette-ful in various situations.  However, the practices of courtesy never change regarding valuing civility as a personal virtue.  Paying attention to the needs of others never goes out of style.

Actions that are always polite and civil:

  • Acknowledge that another person is in your presence.
  • Think before you speak.
  • Use honest, necessary, and kind words.
  • Demonstrate body language that is open.
  • Avoid unkind gestures and body language such as eye rolling, sighing, huffing or standing with arms crossed when speaking with someone.
  • Stay aware of your surroundings and what you are doing.  (Not talking on your phone in a waiting area, for example.)
  • Use the always kind words of “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You are welcome.”

Being civil and demonstrating polite behavior means acting in earnest to discover and be what is recognizably respectful in the situation at hand. Let’s join together in all things polite, civil, and just plain nice.

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