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What will it take to civilise us?

A four-part tongue-in-cheek attempt to ferret out the distinctive features that validate an educated person

Part III

The three ‘C’ steps of a civilising process

JUST as enlightened beings have thirty-two ‘excellent’ signs, so do civilised mortals, their less grand peers, own a more modest three.  Unlike the Buddha’s, though, these latter emblems are not bodily marks, but symbols of a subtler sort.

To cut to the chase, the three c-for-criteria to attain civilised status, in order of increasing import, are courtesy, civic sense and compassion.

What unfolds next is both road map to, and yardstick of, that lofty state to which every right thinking man, woman and child should aspire.

For, in the final analysis, it’s the highest praise one person can pay another.  How much better than to be called rich, good looking or clever is it to be viewed as civilised.  The former attributes are innate, inherited or acquired; the latter has to be earned in the eye of the beholder.

Civilisation marks an evolution of a self, somewhat as it does for the species.  It’s a vital first step on the path to enlightenment or redemption, as the case may be.  ‘Cause if one’s not ‘with it’, one won’t even be aware of nirvana or heaven, let alone the ways and means to get there.

When we are born – to be brutally frank – we’re rather … well, brutish.  That state of baby barbarity is what the great social scientist Jean Jacques Rousseau spoke of as being born free.  Yeah, right, at liberty to do as we please – poop, pee, pass wind, drool, puke, scream – sans shame or regret – the infant as ignoble savage.

In time, with the help of family guidance first, and formal education later, our rough edges are smoothed out and we’re thus made fit to mix, with the minimum of gaffe and faux pas, in polite society.

Our elemental self, though, lies in wait behind the veil of etiquette.  Most of us can keep a lid on this inner hothead, our unruly selves kept well under wraps, but those few known as sociopaths – serial killers, in lay terms – fail to do so.  To put it in simple psychobabble, these sickos let their unconscious (and uncivil) alter egos take the wheel of their cognitive selves.

Education can but show us the way; there’s no spoon-feeding on this path; we have to take those first and last steps to a finer self all on our own.  If we don’t conquer our vile nature, we’ll remain, as many of us do, civilised but on, and not under, the skin.  So much so that it would take just a nudge to push us over the edge, shake off the tenuous chains of civility, and let loose the beast we all are at heart.

 

Manners maketh the man … and fashions the woman to boot

COURTESY, in a nutshell, starts with a ‘please’ and ends with a ‘thank you’.  It’s as epigrammatically simple as that.

Alas – human nature, being what it is – our good manners are but for our betters.  Those we deem our subordinates, we seldom give the time of day.  After all, who takes note of flunkies like waiters or doormen, or pays heed to minions of the peon and sweeper sort?

But this will not do, if you want to be called civil.  Politeness ought not to be prompted by fear of authority, or by the promise of reward, but out of the basic tenet that all humans merit respect, be they Dasho or destitute.

In an ideal world, the way one acts would be artless; only then could one be polite at all times.  With that mindset, one wouldn’t think twice about yielding one’s seat on a crowded bus to an old person or a woman with child.

In this frame of mind, one’s voice would be soft, and words shorn of curse or abuse.  You’d be as polite to an oldie as with a child, as one with officer and orderly.

Like an eager beaver cub scout, you’d be ever on hand to help old folks, kids or the disabled across a street.

Courtesy, you see, is a proactive trait.

Being the epitome of propriety, there will be no lust, meanness, violence or deceit in your mental make-up.  Why, you’d be a real nice guy!

 

Heels within wheels – The complex art of on-road courtesy

IT’S in the social aspect of life that most fall short of decent norms.  A well bred does the right thing in all walks of life, even when, in fact especially if, driving.

So lets start with wheel world, now that there are so many vehicles, and more drivers than not.  That the one behind the wheel should follow traffic rules seems to be a no-brainer.  Yet, the way things are on the road, it may well be rocket science.  Major infringements like drink driving are the tip of the iceberg, and basic breaches, the drops that make a sea of violations.

Take the case of kith and kin on board who spit and throw stuff out on the road.  The trail of litter strewn along highways speaks ill of our newfound mobility.

Next on the least wanted list, horn blowers in general, but especially at taboo spots like hospitals and schools, or residential areas late at night, in the wee hours or at dawn.

You see where I’m going with this.  It’s an old chestnut, but brings into sharp relief the rarity of that precious creature, the mindful driver.

 

to be continued

 

Next Week – Winding up with the last step to what makes one a civilised being

 

Contributed by  John Michael Chiramal

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