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As Long as We Remember...

October 6, 2010

A Return to a Forgotten Past

Kevin E. Dayhoff

A discussion on civility has been the subject of civilized society since the beginnings of language and the written word.


There are many who believe that teaching civility and character development is the responsibility of parents, who have all too often abdicated that role in the lives of their children.


Recently Jim Lee, the editor of The Carroll County Times introduced the topic of civility in society by writing:


“How we treat others, whether face to face or through online associations, says a lot about us as a nation, and the increase in incidents of cyber bullying is a particularly distasteful aspect of our growing lack of courtesy and respect for others.”


Mr. Lee was introducing the reader to recent examples of cyber bullying, which have ended with individuals tragically taking their own lives as a result of being the brunt of examples of inhumanity.


Recently the media has extensively covered the incident of the Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman and an accomplished violinist, who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after being publicly humiliated by having his intimate encounter with another man secretly filmed and distributed on the Internet.


The ironies of the tragedy abound. One may only imagine the media’s reaction if the incident had occurred in the south and not in the sophisticated, liberal, supposedly tolerant northeastern United States.


The political persuasion of the individuals charged with egregiously and intolerantly invading Mr. Clementi’s privacy has not been identified in the media; so we may assume that they are young liberals and not young conservatives.


Another irony is the matter that the abusive behavior toward Mr. Clementi was carried out by two minority students, who by all appearances come from sophisticated upper crust backgrounds.


The New York Times said: “The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office said Mr. Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, 18, of Plainsboro, N.J., and another classmate, Molly Wei, 18, of Princeton Junction, N.J., had each been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy for using ‘the camera to view and transmit a live image’ of Mr. Clementi…”


The Times also ironically observed: “The Sept. 22 death … was the latest by a young American that followed the online posting of hurtful material. The news came on the same day that Rutgers kicked off a two-year, campus-wide project to teach the importance of civility, with special attention to the use and abuse of new technology.”


Of course – and I repeat myself for emphasis – there are many who firmly believe that teaching the importance of civility is the responsibility of parents. Many may agree with Mr. Lee who wrote: “Reversing the trend starts with parents, who children look to emulate in their behaviors.


“If parents are disrespectful to specific groups of individuals because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or political affiliations, either in public or even around the dinner table, children will consider that acceptable behavior.”


I worry that our families and community cannot prosper if society fails and we do not rediscover some sense of civility and practice daily acts of kindness to one another. We can do it now, by starting right here at home.


Many years ago, the pastor at my church told a great story about tolerance that has always stuck with me.


As the story goes, one Sunday morning the church pews were full and the sanctuary was bathed in the sweltering heat of summer as the service was about to begin.


It was at that time a young man appeared in the back of the church in search of a place to sit.


One could hear a faint murmur travel through the pews in waves as members of the congregation began to gaze at the sight at top of the center aisle where they discovered a gentleman desperately in need of a bath and clean clothes.


He was poorly dressed and adorned with body piercings, earrings and disheveled hair enough to look like a refugee from the “3 Days of Peace and Music,” filth, drugs and mud-filled, hippy-dippy Woodstock concert in the middle of August 1969.


No one in the congregation was willing to squish together a little and make room in a pew for the young man. So the gentleman walked down the center aisle with a wave of aroma that caused the personal comfort fans of the congregants to wave even more furiously than their wagging tongues of disapproval.


At the front of the church, he sat down on the floor, obviously oblivious of the silent uproar.


Just then one of the most prominent men in the church cleared his throat. He was considered one of the most powerful – conservative – men in the community and was known for clearly and forcibly speaking his mind about the various challenges that confronted the community and the church.


Only he was strangely silent as he slowly rose to his feet and reached for his cane and ignored the fact that his wife was about to faint.


Impeccably dressed in the finest of three-piece suits, not a single gray hair was out of place as he began to make his way down the aisle approaching the young man. His cane established a cadence to the unfolding drama with a click, click, click, which echoed throughout the total silence of the church as the organist’s hands froze mid-note.


When he arrived beside the young man seated upon the floor, the older distinguished gentleman placed his hand upon the shoulder of the seated young man.


The elder distinguished gentleman thereupon steadied himself – on the shoulder of the young man – and silently sat down beside him on the floor, in the middle of aisle, in the very front of the sanctuary and shook his hand and welcomed him to the church services.


It was British historian, writer and Member of Parliament, Hilaire Belloc, (1870-1953) who once said, “The grace of God is courtesy.”


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