The Americas


18 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS VIEW POINT COURTESY, KINDNESS HELPS RACIAL HARMONY (H. B. Gow; freelance writer) Can courtesy and kindness help ease racial tension and promote racial harmony? The Christian Science Monitor recently asked that question of several civil rights, civic and religious leaders. Many of these leaders acknowledged that, while courtesy and kindness could not replace better housing, more jobs and equal opportunities for minorities, the practice of such virtues greatly facilitates efforts to foster racial harmony and alleviate racial tensions. According to Brooklyn, N.Y. civic leader Meg Armstrong, when you give young people training in interpersonal relationship, you’re also dealing with ways of easing racial tensions. Armstrong’s statement was supported by Jim Williams, a spokesman for the National Urban League. Courtesy is good common sense, said Williams, because good manners can help prevent small tensions from becoming larger confrontations. He provided this example: Suppose a black person is on a crowded bus or subway and a white person steps on the black man’s foot. If the white person doesn’t say: excuse me, observed Williams, the incident can have racial overtones. Unless you let the person know there is no malice involved, he might interpret it as malice. Marvin Dunn, a black psychologist, readily agreed that acts of courtesy and kindness are indispensable to racial harmony; He discussed the racial tensions and rioting that occurred four years ago in Miami, and how kindness and courtesy helped to alleviate the explosive situation. “In the midst of the crisis, ‘observed Dunn,’ we had black people who were going out of their way to protect and assist white people in what is typical good samaritan fashion.” He added, “I think the death toll could have been considerably higher had we not done th,~J kind of thing.” Clearly, we need in our society a resuscitation of what the eminent 18th century British statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke termed “the spirit of civility.” VIEW POINT 19 When Burke spoke of “civility”, he meant much more than mere social poise and the ability to win friends and influence people. Rather Burke was referring to acts of courtesy, kindness and decency in our everyday encounters. It means, for example,that we remember to say such simple but too often neglected words as “thank you,” “you are welcome” and “excuse me”. It means that we remember to express thanks to those deeds on our behalf. We also find civility demonstrated when a person sacrifices his or her seat on a bus or subway so that an elderly or handicapped person may have a place to sit. We find civility manifested when cashiers in department stores, restaurants and supermarkets greet people with smiles and gratitude rather than with hostile looks and sarcastic remarks. Civility is also demonstrated when members of a church show kindness and charity to members of a minority group seeking to worship in their church. We see civility manifested when our nation’s political, moral, religious and cultural leaders engage in a civilized and rational conversation regarding our nation’s ills and proposed solutions. We see civility demonstrated when workers treat their employers with courtesy and consideration, and when employers return the same. We see civility exhibited when young people treat the elderly with consideration and respect, and when the elderly likewise treat young people with understanding. We find civility when students and teachers engage in a civilized and rational discourse in a joint effort to attain wisdom and truth. We see civility demonstrated when people of different races or of different religions treat one another with respect and kindness rather than with hatred and suspicion. Ifwe are to have a society, a country, worthy of our admiration and love, we have to resuscitate in our society the spirit of civility, which along with the spirit of religion, helps to promote and tighten the bonds that exist among humans, the bonds that promote unity and communion rather than division the bonds that bind a person to his neighbour, to his family, to his church, to his community, to his country.