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Civility

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Civility

"...what makes being civil different from being respectful, considerate, or tolerant, is that civility always involves a display of respect, tolerance, or considerateness. Thus civility is an essentially communicative form of moral conduct."

-- Cheshire Calhoun

What is civility?


Humans are social creatures. We are born in society, and roughly 99.9% of us continue to live in society. Civility is a term that seeks to capture what our moral obligations are as members of the societies we align ourselves with. The characteristic of civility manifests itself as a feeling of care and concern for the society of which one is a part. It is this sense of concern that compels a person who is "civil" to be mindful of the various obligations he or she has to their respective communities.

To be civil, a person must seek to uncover, to the best of their ability, what norms are in the common good, and what present norms may be in need of revision. Once a person has developed the appropriate sense of care for his or her communities, various behaviors will follow. For example, in the U.S., if a citizen is trying to do what is best for the common good, they will seek to elect representatives that represent this end.

On the surface, civility is not a particularly complex concept and characteristic to grasp. However, what counts as being in the "common good" is a horribly deep and thorny issue. One need not go any farther than issues of taxation, health care, and abortion to see that this is so. For these reasons, the most compelling, and for our purposes, pertinent demand of civility is that you be well-educated. Your job is to develop the kind of mind that is capable of navigating the murky waters of the common good.

Why is it necessary?

In some ways college, particularly a large research university like OU, can act as a proxy for the kinds of social interactions and institutions that are present in larger society. For example, OU has a president, vice-president, governing bodies, committees, court structures, and so on. The student population is also organized and encouraged to have their own system of governance within the larger scope of the university, just as the university exists within the larger structure of the country.

The university system is not an accident. This is a place of leaning on multiple fronts, both in the classroom and outside of it. A student at OU is not just a student. He or she is also a citizen. As a citizen of this university you have certain norms and obligations you must adhere to. A simple example is not to litter. It is neither within your rights nor in the interest of the common good that this campus be trashed. To thrive at OU, it is essential that you develop a sense for what it means to be a "Sooner Citizen." You will do well to have a presence on campus: vote for your student representatives, educate yourself on the issues that affect you, and try to find a leadership position within a club or volunteer group.

The eminent psychotherapist, Alfred Adler, a person whose work influenced brilliant minds like that of Dr. Martin Luther King, held that a great deal of our mental health is tied to our "social interest." Adler’s version of social interest is similar in kind to what we mean by civility. Having civility as a part of your character is not just a way to influence the health of the world around you, it is also a means to improve your own sense of well-being by fully realizing your potential as a social creature.