Ninth in a series on "ity" words
Civility is defined as "conformity to the principles of social order, behavior befitting a citizen; citizenship." Civility also has the sense of "polite or liberal education; training in the humanities, good breeding; culture, refinement." Civility has the sense of decency or seemliness. It is also "the state of being civilized; freedom from barbarity" (Oxford English Dictionary). Civility has its root in the Latin word that means "a member of a household" ("The Roots of English").
Recently, the church released a statement, "The Mormon Ethic of Civility." The statement quotes President Thomas S. Monson, "When a spirit of goodwill prompts our thinking and when united effort goes to work on a common problem, the results can be gratifying." The statement also quotes President Gordon B. Hinckley that "living together in communities with respect and concern for one another is the hallmark of civilization." The statement continues, "That hallmark is under increasing threat. So many of the habits and conventions of modern culture — ubiquitous media, anonymous and unsourced online participation, politicization of the rooting, fractured community and family life — undermine the virtues and manners that make peaceful coexistence in a pluralist society possible. The fabric of civil society tears when stretched thin by its extremities. Civility, then, becomes the measure of our collective and individual character as citizens of a democracy."
Elder D. Todd Christofferson has noted that "the societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation have failed to foster moral discipline. As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments." Elder Christofferson then quotes columnist Walter Williams: "Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we have become" (Ensign, November 2009).
In a sense, civility is really only the kind of manners we have been taught by our mothers for generations, that we should be cordial and treat others as we would be expected to be treated. As noted in the church's statement on civility, Elder Robert D. Hales taught, "Some people mistakenly think responses such as silence, meekness, forgiveness, and bearing humble testimony are passive or weak. But to 'love (our) enemies, bless them that curse (us), do good to them that hate (us), and pray for them which despitefully use (us), and persecute (us)' (Matthew 5:44) takes faith, strength, and most of all, Christian courage."
Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret News.
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