My friend Celeste wrote about civility and my mind started wrapping around that word. Civilized, civilization, civil, civil war. We need a better word for it. Civility makes me think of cold politeness, of manners that hide contempt. Civil is defined as acting just good enough to not be seen as rude. Civilized seems just barely so. Civilization has applied to cultures that were monstrous.
As herd animals, we cling to groups that are as tightly knit as a family group or a loosely formed as strangers in an elevator. A nod and a smile as you enter and the connection is made. We scream at drivers in our cars, we cut them off. And yet strangers instinctively help when help is needed, comforting injured motorists or survivors of some tragedy. What part of our brain drives these behaviors? How is it that some circumstances trigger help and compassion and others rage and animosity. How can we change our environment to generate more of the former than the latter.
You know how it happens. Some point of contact, a look or smile or circumstance, humanizes the stranger who may have cut you off. You suddenly see them as like you, lost or frazzled or just having a bad moment. It is like a release, your anger melts and you feel better. On the other side, you are desperate to merge in heavy traffic, a some kind soul smiles and waves you in. Kindness.
That is the word. We need more kindness. Kind. A synonym is humane, the original spelling of the word human, but changed 300 years ago. Could it be as simple and as complex as kindness. We learned the secret in kindergarten. Do unto others? Simple, but not easy.