On any given weekend or holiday, my house is filled with up to 20 college girls who used to go to my school in South Africa. To help harmonize a home full of noisy, growing women with diverse styles and interests, we had to institute some ground rules of civility.

One of the biggies: No phones at the table when we’re eating. Phones down when we’re in conversation. That’s down as in down—not in your hand, waiting for the next ping, text, or notification.

It’s not rocket science. Just basic stuff that keeps us courteous. And present with each other.

It’s caused us to engage more thoughtfully. And to become more connected. We have real discussions, about everything from politics to Pokémon. We laugh a lot. We listen to Stedman’s perpetual lecture on his favorite subject: leadership.

We disagree. We challenge each other’s ideas. We riff our way through the latest gossip. Sometimes we even sing! It’s loud and boisterous at our table, but always respectful.

I think that’s the key concept so much of our culture has forgotten. Through reality shows and the internet, we’ve been fed a steady stream of incivility that models rude behavior. We’ve become used to people treating others badly; it doesn’t shock us anymore.

But the end of civility marks the end of life as we know it. Of life as we should want to know it. Do we really aspire to be citizens of a world that doesn’t value regard for one another?

I know for sure I don’t. So I’m stepping up my kindness to others. And I’m posing this question: How many people do you encounter in a day whom you don’t really see?

A friend of mine recently told me a stunning story. He’d returned early from a business trip to China so he could attend a birthday celebration for his mother-in-law. No one was expecting him, so as a joke he decided to dress as a waiter and serve at the big, fancy party. He slicked his hair under a cap, donned a uniform, and proceeded to pour drinks, pass hors d’oeuvres, show guests to their tables. And in a room full of over 100 people—people who knew him well!—not one person ever realized it was him.

He told me: “The surprise was that they didn’t recognize me. The shock was they never even noticed me.”

This story has helped me make an extra effort to pay attention to people who usually go unnoticed. The housekeeper at the hotel. The busser cleaning the table. The guy filling the hole on the street corner. The police officer who pulled alongside me at a stoplight. I gave them all my full-on respect today.

And let them know they were seen and appreciated by at least one person. Me.

Sometimes that’s all it takes.

A little civility can cross big boundaries.

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