Civility

Civility

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
April 3 1998 3:30 AM

Civility

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       OK. Rudy Giuliani is a hard case. For a civility crusader, he's a little on the mean side. It's almost as if Bill Clinton became the national spokesman for the abstinence movement. Somebody in casting made a mistake.
       But that doesn't matter. What matters is that Giuliani understands something important: small things count. Living a decent life in urban America these days is largely a matter of winning little victories and avoiding little indignities. It is undermined everywhere by hostile panhandlers, drivers who honk at you when the light changes, and people who cut in front of you in line. It is a myth that New Yorkers enjoy living the insensitive life. They don't like it any better than anyone else. That's why Giuliani is a popular mayor.
       The truth is that the small courtesies of everyday life have nothing to do with aristocracy or hoity-toitiness or any of the elitist plagues that seem to trouble you so much. They are tangible tokens of the community that just about all of us--even you, I'm pretty sure--really prefer to live in. I bet you don't blow smoke in anybody's face. Why are you so determined to make it into a constitutional privilege?
       You don't want me to deny you your right to disgust me. All right, I won't. But I'm not willing to grant you an absolute right to disgust me in my presence, any time you feel like it. In a healthy society, majorities have rights, too. They shouldn't have to be embarrassed about claiming them.
       This whole country has been suffering in the last 30 years from an overdose of individual rights and a shortage of individual decency. My baby boom cohort is full of liberals who support the ACLU and Amnesty International but don't know how to treat the secretaries and the cleaning crew in the office. That used to amuse me. The older I get, the less amusing it seems. There are many things I don't know how to do and many problems I don't have any idea how to solve. But I know how to ask for favors politely and disagree without yelling. If I can remember to do that, we're all a little better off. That's not just civility, it's civilization. They have the same root.
       Have a real nice day.