I am blessed to be surrounded by so many friends and colleagues who treasure
our Democratic Republic as much as do I, who dedicate their lives to imparting that respect and love for the ideals that our nation was founded upon, and who understand that dissonance is a part of our process. Dr. Eddie Bennett is a mentor and incredibly gifted colleague of mine. In fact, chances are, if Eddie is a part of it, go ahead and sign me up. -RT
Recently, I left my apartment very early in the morning to take my daily four-mile walk. When I got to the corner, a man in a van yelled at me. All I understood was “mask”. My mask was in my hand so I held it up and yelled back “here it is!” I did understand his next words but I won’t repeat them here. He cursed me - not for NOT wearing my mask - but for simply having a mask. I was stunned. So, I yelled back, “I’m just trying to take care of myself. Have a great day!” As I walked away, I thought, whatever happened to being civil?
I was fortunate enough to work in the Cobb County School District for 17 years. While I was the middle/high school social studies supervisor, my next-door office mate was Carolyn. She and I spent a lot of time together talking about all kinds of things. Carolyn was/is very active as a leader in her Presbyterian Church and I was/am very active as a leader in my United Methodist Church. We did have some disagreements, but never about religion. You guessed it, our political affiliation wasn’t the same. However, Carolyn and I decided to agree to disagree over politics although we found ourselves often in greater agreement than disagreement. One day Carolyn came into my office and said “I have a gift for you.” It was a lapel pin that simply said “CIVILITY”. She said “that’s the way I see our friendship, one with a great degree of respect and civility.” I wear that pin often and always think of Carolyn.
Many people today are feeling the lack of civility. Politics and the pandemic seem
to have placed us all under a great deal of stress and anxiety. Even before I was yelled at for owning a mask, I felt the anxiety of COVID. I have friends who are suffering because even though they have been very careful, they have become infected. Zooming multiple times per week makes me anxious and gives me a headache. However, I am blessed to have so many wonderful friends and colleagues with whom to share Zoom!
I have been thinking about how I might be able to make the world more civil. For one thing, I have to activate my ability to choose. I have the ability to adjust my attitude and to choose how to react in any given situation. When I was yelled at on the street outside my home, I could have chosen to yell back in kind. I’m old enough to know some choice words to hurl at a person who likely would not be open to being educated about the use of a mask during a pandemic. “In life, it’s important to know when to stop arguing with people and simply let them be wrong.” Daddis Notebooks.
Don’t feel bad if there are some things you can’t discuss with certain people, even if they are family or friends. During the past few months, I’ve come up with several ways that have helped me choose to be civil. First, reduce the amount of news you are reading, watching or listening to. Take an early morning walk although you may be yelled at occasionally. Ignore messages on Facebook or at least limit Facebook time. Read something inspirational. Spend time thinking, praying and reflecting. One of my favorite places to visit is Nubble Lighthouse on Cape Neddick, Maine. I have a picture of myself at the lighthouse sitting on a granite bench which says on the back, “repose, reflect, rejoice.” Take a deep breath and accept the fact that you can’t make other people civil, but you can choose to be civil yourself. And that is a reason to rejoice!
Dr. Eddie Bennett serves as the Executive Director of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies. Bennett has had a distinguished career in education serving in multiple school systems, Pioneer RESA, and the Georgia Department of Education to name just a few experiences. His dedication to serving educators and ensuring students are equipped to be a good citizen is inspiring.