Civility

One of the very best books written about Ruist ideas for a lay audience in recent years is Amy Olberding’s The Wrong of Rudeness: Learning Modern Civility from Ancient Chinese Philosophy. To get a taste of Olberding’s ideas, check out her recent blog post, 20 Theses Regarding Civility. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Civility is not about what individual people deserve and it’s somewhat dangerous to treat it this way. It is morally hazardous for each to act as moral judge in daily life, using our prosaic interactions (civil and uncivil) to levy judgments about people’s moral standing or character. We will rarely know enough to do this accurately or responsibly. So too, a world where signals of respect and consideration are doled out like seals of approval by individuals is a world that promises radically worsening ideological clustering, homogenized “bubbles,” etc.

Amy Olberding

Sometimes we act as if civility is a kind of treat reserved for those who deserve it. We’re happy to hand out this treat to people whom we judge are deserving of it and equally happy to withhold the treat from those who don’t. This idea appeals to our sense of justice or fairness.

As Olberding points out, however, we’re probably not great judges in these matters. And, when we dish out our civility selectively, we’re likely to reinforce our bubbles by warmly welcoming those who already agree with us and pushing away those who don’t.

Civility is ultimately a form of communication. The message it communicates is this: I respect you. If we determine to respect everyone, regardless of whether or not they agree with us, then it follows that we should treat everyone with civility.

As Olberding points out in the rest of the article, however, this does not mean that we try to agree with everyone.

About the Author

Ben Butina, Ph.D.
Ben is the President and co-founder of the Ruist Association of America, Inc. and Friends from Afar, an English-speaking Ruist discussion group on Facebook. He's also the creator of Stone Chimes, a modern English adaptation of the Analects of Confucius.