When we relate to the world as if we were on automatic pilot, we can hardly be at our best in our encounters with our fellow human beings. When we pay attention, when we are alert to the world, we improve substantially the quality of our responses and therefore the quality of our lives and of the lives of those who touch ours. We want to inhabit every situation with ease but at the same time maintain a little bit of the stranger's ability to be "impressed" by reality. We want to allow reality to leave its mark upon our consciousness:
- I am not just talking with a colleague but with this colleague, who told me several weeks ago that he was concerned about his child's health and whom I have seen grow more and more preoccupied in the last few days. I will keep this in mind as we plan our next month's teamwork.
- I am not just reminiscing with a high school friend but with this friend, who married early, never went to college, and seems threatened by the friendships I developed in college. I should reassure her of my commitment to our friendship.
- I am not just critiquing the work of a student. I am speaking to this individual student, whom I saw struggling during the semester as she tried to match the performances of more seasoned fellow students. As I go over her essay with her, I will remind her of her strengths and tell her I believe in her potential.
- A car is trying to join the traffic flow from the parking lot to my right. Since the traffic is bumper-to-bumper, if everybody thinks of that car as just another car, its driver will be stuck forever. I will slow down to let him in ahead of me.
- Virginia notices that in the back of our train car several of the travelers are reading and working. Since we want to talk, she observes, it would be a good idea to sit in front, in order to disturb them as little as possible with our chatter.
Excerpted from P.M. Forni's Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct © 2002 by P.M. Forni. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from St. Martin's Press.