Privilege Blog

The Profound Impact Of Civility, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:30am

I was at my father’s house last night, he and I were talking. He said, and I paraphrase, “The question of whether evil exists has been central to theology for over 1000 years.” I promise, this was a logical remark, given our conversation.

My immediate reaction. “Then since we can’t know about evil, we’ve got to try to be as civil and amiable as we can.” A series of images went through my head — a full day of Kind and Polite. Smiling at the checkout clerk and letting them know that yes, indeed, you did find everything you were looking for.

A very Sturdy reaction to the question of evil.

Somehow I felt my conversation with Dad dovetailed with ideas I’d been considering for today. Although I never start writing the Saturday post until Saturday morning, I do think about it during the week.

I’m guessing most of you read Janet’s blog, The Gardener’s Cottage? Recently she asked her readers, “How are you doing?” She may have broken Blogger trying to respond to the scores of comments. How kind and civil is that? Beyond the expectations of her technology platform, certainly.

I remember when Faux Fuchsia asked her readers where they were from and how old they were. So many answers, so many replies.

Then last week so many of you wished me and my husband a happy anniversary. Thank you. Observing rituals and civilities.

None of these events involved formality or protocol. I do not yearn for the days of stockings and white gloves. But, if we can’t know about evil, I think we can know about how not to be a jerk.

Stepping back, I see two things in these few blog moments. First, someone asks someone else about themselves. I am a blurter and have a hard time remembering to listen, to ask real questions of other people so they can be heard. It’s important. Second, the grace of small celebrations. It may a small thing to tell someone, ” Thank you,” or, “Get well soon,” or, “Happy anniversary!” But as you all remind me, the effect of the action is far more than the effort.

In that vein, I wanted to ask, if you have a chance today, please comment on a blog post you enjoy or admire. And I do not mean mine, 100% feel free to read and exit silently. But surely someone else out there is writing by themselves and wondering, “Does anyone care?” Or they are dealing with controversy, or mean remarks, or ennui.

Or they are quietly, and persistently, being not a jerk.

A comment will feel really wonderful. This I know. Thank you all again, ever so much.

63 Responses

  1. It’s so very true that comments feel wonderful. Mine seems to have the possibility of being one of the first on your blog today, and I hope some of the wonder that I feel at each and every comment I manage to elicit in my own blog adheres to this comment on yours! What a marvelous 21st-century project we engage in, and I love that you want to aim it sturdily against Evil!

  2. Lisa, your Saturday morning posts are my favourites because they make me reflect on so many small moments that pass through my life. Yes to kindness and civility because it takes such a small amount of effort to create a profound effect. I think kindness and civility buffers indifference which, to me, is often at the root of much that we call “evil”.

    Oh, and happy anniversary!

  3. Such a kind reminder, and a creative way to lure people to the concept of kindness. What’s that idiom/saying about one good deed catching another? Please remind me!

    I got two likes for a comment I left today on a recently divorced person’s brave revelation. Enough to bring a smile. :-)

  4. Lisa, I don’t always comment but there is always something in your posts that makes me think. Today you gave me a jewel of a thought, “…quietly, and persistently, not being a jerk.” Thank you.

  5. Why evil exist is one of the questions I asked myself so many times. One of our writers wrote a fiction book with a morality “evil exists to know what is Good,to make a diference”. I must say that I would be very happy not to have to take this lesson. I believe in good and kind (and I guess, we all reading your blog ,do the same)
    I am new to your blog world , so I maybe have to take some “Blog readining for dummies” before commenting,and a lot of english grammar,but even so,I feel so enriched stepping in this community.
    I like your blog very,very much,especially Saturday mornings posts. You have so much to say and you say it simple and sophisticated at the same kind,and it is a rare virtue ( and not your only one !)
    I admire Mater in all things she is, and writes about,in all she achieved,for all positive even when she feels not so!
    I like TNMA and her wit ( as well as Lady Sarah,very much) and journalistic approach.
    I like and admire some other ladies who blog and who only comment for a lot of things,it is simply not possible to write about all of them,so I apologize not to mention them
    I realy am very happy to found you all recently and two broken ribs ( I was more free to google than usually ) were really worth the price!

    1. @dottoressa, I believe I speak not only for myself to say we are very, very happy you have found us. I do not think you need instruction in how to contribute here;). And thank you, I am so glad you like the blog.

  6. I love your blog more and more, and never read it without commenting. You write in a way that makes me want to comment, not feeling any obligation to.
    You put so much thought into your posts and it really shines through.

    How lovely to have a parent that you can have those types of discussions with.

    1. @kathy, <3. And yes, my father is one of the great conversationists of the world. Were he born today, I think we'd all listen to his podcasts, or interviews, and feel both grace and erudition added to our every day.

  7. Lisa
    I read your blog every week. I never feel the need to comment as it is just so nice to read and reflect in private. Your views today have prompted me to write to say I agree. It’s so easy to be kind and kindness is not as common as it used to be. Thank you for the reminder.


    Ireland – Europe

  8. I emailed you out of the blue last fall. You immediately wrote back and encouraged me that yes, it’s possible to take a hiatus from career. And that creating order, and something good in the rest of one’s life is so very satisfying. You were right. I left full time to focus on Unshattered: handbags from repurposed materials made by women in recovery from addiction. We’ve come a long way in 8 months – just completed the race prizes for the West Point Triathlon and in addition landed a significant grant to begin building the company in order to create jobs for women who have completed the program. Next up, a brand new website and a design studio/manufacturing floor.

    Thank you for both your encouragement and your realistic viewpoint. You helped tip the scales for me to step out and do something meaningful.

    1. @Kelly L, I remember you. I was struck immediately in your email by a sense of both purpose and competence. My experience is that those traits give a person flexibility in how they approach life, and the ability to reap the benefits for themselves in the way they choose, if they but make that choice. I can’t tell you how impressed and happy I am to hear what you’ve done. Not surprised, mind you, and I doubt I had much at all to do with it, more that I chimed in to tell you what the rest of the universe had already said.

      Go you. In a big way. Feel free to post a link here if you so choose.

  9. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. Attributed to Edmund Burke.

    Doubt he was referring to blogs, but a good sentiment

    On the subject of blog comments, there used to be a great blog called “The Daily Prep”. Some of the best commenters ever. In fact, I see some of them here. She went to a new format that no longer allows comments. I sure miss those. I have wondered what happened to make the change.

    Good food for thought topic.

    1. @Mary Anne, I don’t know for certain why Muffy disallowed comments. But I imagine she might have wearied of some of the haters who loved to jump on her site. I heard tell of some horror stories.

  10. Lisa your posts are thought provoking and many times I read them twice once in the morning and another later in the day.
    Kindness just feels right and the more we practice it the more natural it becomes.
    It would be lovely if evil did not exist but as with joy and sorrow, we must experience both to understand it.

  11. As always I write without reading previous responses, so please forgive me if this is in any way repetitious. I was absolutely stunned at the premise that there is any question at all “whether evil exists” (the holocaust, child abuse, 9/11 cancer scams etc. etc. etc.) I know many people who dispute the existence of God, but this is the first time I have ever come across anyone who disputed the existence of evil. So- that brought me up short. The segue into civility was interesting as well. In our family anniversaries go unheralded except for the couple(s) involved, (and even they sometimes give scant acknowledgment, except for the occasional comment “I can’t believe that it has been (x number of) years.” Perhaps this year, which will be our 50th we will be more attentive than that. As for commenting on blogs, I wrestle with that. How does one know whether the blogger is looking for honest feedback or only those comments that are in agreement with content? It was a very thought-provoking post, Lisa.

    1. @kathy, The question, in a theological sense, is not “Do people do bad things?” It’s more, is Evil a thing unto itself. A precise discussion. I hope your anniversary is whatever you would like it to be! And as for commenting in disagreement, I can only speak for myself. I welcome thoughtful civil disagreement. I do not like, and have even decided to delete if necessary, comments that are either hateful, or written by someone who seems to come here repeatedly only because they do not like me and want to see if they can convince others to feel the same.

    2. @kathy, I think that the pervasive nature of evil is ontological proof of its existence. In point of fact it seems to be the very basis of the argument(s) against the existence of God e.g. “if an all powerful God is good how could He allow…?” Yes, evil is a reality- perhaps the argument is whether or not it is a sort of free standing power?? I guess that I believe an argument more on point is the origin of evil-

  12. You and I met on Twitter in the Class of 2009. I loved, and continue to love, your writing, your blog, your bravery, your willingness to explore and change, your kindness, and your insights. There was a period of time when I became a bit obsessed with the idea of evil and read about it. My inquiry dovetailed with a time when a lot was being written by people such as Philip Gourevitch. A friend with whom I spoke about this said something that stayed with me that I suppose comes down to the idea of the banality of evil and the moral self. She said, “Evil does not laugh wickedly and twirl a moustache.” My dad, with whom I miss talking the way you were talking with your dad, and my mom both modeled lives of civility. I was describing to a friend yesterday how my parents both taught their children to respect each person we encountered without thought to anything but, “I am a human dealing with respect with another human.” We left hotel rooms clean out of respect for the staff. We showed the same respect to the Basque sheepherder and the wealthy rancher. Everyone had something to offer except those who treated anyone badly in our presence, and then we needed to speak up. I took that all to heart and try to live by it. I look forward to your Saturday pieces, and appreciate each one I read. Happy Saturday evening to you.

  13. I am realising how important connecting with others is, either online or preferably in person. Connection is what makes the world go round and is so important to our health and well being. We are basically pack animals and do better together than alone. One of the great things about the internet and blogging etc is our ability to meet and share with like minded people.

  14. I love your posts like this and thanks for the shout out.

    I am reading about The Churchills at the moment (by Mary Lovell- SO GOOD) and Winston was always polite and really into kindness which I love.

    I got a mean spirited snarky comment the other day and despite all the interesting ones it made me feel a bit flat…

    I was asked if I regretted starting my blog- no- because I’ve connected with, and met some of the nicest people ever through it.

    Warm regards, and did I ever tell you I sourced and read your Dad’s book? x

    1. @Faux Fuchsia, Thank you and you’re welcome. Winston was polite and kind? I had no idea!

      And isn’t it weird how we might think of the nice comments, “Oh, they are just being nice,” and yet the nasty ones can make us just that, fla.t

      And I think you did mention you’d read Dad’s book, and thank you for that – but I can’t remember, did you have any particular thoughts about it?

  15. Well, what a good thought today. I was thinking on this- why do I read your blog?? We have , on the surface, vastly different lives, but are they really? I think I like you mostly because you are not afraid. You can see the things happening in your life and reflect honestly, not always perfectly bubbly and rosy, and I feel like you are fair. That is…. fair to your self. WHY oh why can’t people see that to really get to that happy place in your life is to play fair. Yes, sometimes we are really let down, disappointed, disillusioned, etc but admit it and deal with it. Just accept this stuff as life happening. Reach out and expand your thinking, people!! You keep up the good inspiration to me, all of us, to be fair and observant, reflective. Thanks to you!!

    1. Thank you @susie. That is, other than to be polite, one of my first goals as a person. To look at my self, and difficult subjects, with an unbiased eye as much as I can. So if that is how I communicate myself to you, I am very happy to know it.

  16. Thank you for another interesting post. I always enjoy your blog and feel enriched because of it.

  17. As an adherent of a religion that describes ‘evil’ as non-existent, being merely the absence of good (as darkeness is the absence of light), I have to give any and all efforts toward civility and kindness a big thumbs-up; at times the small gentlenesses we show each other seem the only tangibly good thing in a very chaotic world. As regards blog-commenting, I frequently wonder whether the unequal relationship between blogger and readers is healthy for the blogger: the blogger pours their heart and soul (granted, some more than others, but always, writing comes from within) for others to read, and in this age of declining comments, the occasional harsh word must hit that much harder, not muted by the reassuring comfort of a reciprocal relationship. Apologies for the essay, and thanks for the thought-provoking words.

    1. @Jules, No, no, essay much appreciated! This is a shared space to communicate, although, as you point out, I will do most of the talking;). It has taken time to find my way to absorb and handle negative comments. I try to learn from them, and recently, have developed more of a sense of humor too. I hope your religion is correct in its view of the world.

  18. Hi Lisa,

    I haven’t been by as much as I used to as your notifications go into a ‘Promotions’ folder that I never look at so you get lost in the shuffle. A belated congratulations on your wedding anniv and I still say you had the best wedding pics I’ve seen and love how you did the whole thing. I’ve been wondering how Prof C has been doing and glad to know he’s still sharing his immense wisdom…it must be blissful to hear first hand.

    Please continue.

    1. @GSL, I’ll continue! Glad you stopped by to say hello, I’m pretty tickled by the idea that I land in a Promotions file:). I know you’ve been busy, the other day I saw you are publishing a book?

  19. Lisa, I do not think I have commented, but your post resonated and I would like to say thank you for this and many previous posts! I love your proposal of kindness., a lovely simple suggestion.

  20. I nominate Brain Pickings as the blog I most appreciate; this week’s post is about the paradoxical benefits of one’s unlived life (I believe, if I remember correctly, that you have a Jungian in the family?)

    1. @Duchesse, A psychoanalyst, if not strictly Jungian, who endorses all kinds of visions and quests. I’ll look at the post, thanks for the recommendation, and I hope you are enjoying your summer.

  21. Mardel at quietly, persistently, and courageously explores the fears and vulnerabilities that keep many of us awake at night. I stumbled across her blog in July, a good place for a new reader to start. Her 7/20 post “Circuit Boards and Sewing Machines,” 7/27 review of Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk, and 7/24 post on each new day’s being like a half-open door all brought me to tears, in a good way.

    1. @Davie Davis, Oh My! Thank you for your lovely, thoughtful and kind recommendation of my blog. One, well “I” at least although I know it is true for others, wonder at the process, and wonder about casting my words and thoughts out into the world. Your comment brought tears to my eyes, although happy ones, and a smile to my face this morning.

  22. Lisa, Oh how I love the way you throw big and weighty subjects into the milieu with such casual aplomb, and get right to the heart of the matter, the small courtesies and civilities that actually make life bearable, and allow us to connect. Grand ideas and theories, grand gestures, abound, and I wonder sometimes if it is a myth, this idea that you have to be great to change the world. The older I become the more it seems that from a small step a mighty world can grow, from kindness into love and tolerance and perhaps, peace.

    I tend to agree with Jules, and attend a church where this is the emphasized path, as is the idea that we may not all be in the same place, or even on the same path in our faith journey, but we must all listen to each other with kindness and love. I cannot say that all followers of my religion share these beliefs however. But I do think that if we would all simply agree to be kind to ourselves and each other, to listen to each other with open hearts and minds, and accept that none of us have the answers, we would find that we have much in common.

  23. I like & admire this post. I like that Kelly emailed you for encouragement and I like that you emailed right back. I admire Kelly for taking the leap and I admire the heck out of Unshattered and hope that Kelly will take you up on the offer of posting a link!

  24. I do think evil exists and it has nothing to do with religion. As a criminal appellate lawyer I see it first hand. Fortunately true evil is very rare.

    I very much enjoy your blog, especially the Saturday morning posts. Other blogs I enjoy include une femme and a femme, as well as accidental icon.

    1. @Leslie K, I have a question for you. Do you think these are people, who behave in an evil way, or this is Evil, manifest in people? Thank you for reading, and for your comments.

    2. @Leslie K, Interesting timing, because my husband spoke about evil from the pulpit on Sunday. And just to clarify, we’re mainline Presbyterians…”The Frozen Chosen,” as we’re known. He referenced his time at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where he had an internship as a chaplain in a maximum security prison, describing the feeling of almost palpable evil while visiting inmates in “the hole.” And mind you, my guy is non-superstitious, as solid as they come. No heebie-jeebies for him.

      I don’t know…I’m a college-educated science major, but I think there are certain mysteries in this world that science can’t explain away. And I think ISIS comes closest to proof of tangible evil today. But this is spoken with humility.

  25. These days whenever a stranger goes out of his or her way to be courteous or kind – whether a small thing or a big one – I am not only surprised and delighted, but it sets me up for pleasant rest of my day, and makes me want to try and pay it forward by being more mindful about the effect I have on the world around me. Great post, Lisa!

  26. awww lisa how sweet of you to mention me. i still cannot reply or even publish comments waiting. that post for some reason did blow up. :)

    i always like to think that there are just more kind loving people in the world than evil ones. proof would be FF’s comment about the one snarky comment in a sea of positive ones. those mean ones sting and can be hard to get over…

  27. To answer your question, Lisa, I think it may be both. Some people respond to a set of circumstances in a manner that may be described as evil. My experience has been that these people have the capacity for empathy and kindness. There are others, perhaps they would be deemed sociopaths, who really don’t seem to have that capacity. As to the latter, I would say evil is manifest.

    1. @Leslie K, Interesting. I can’t quite get to the concept of Evil existing a priori, but absolutely feel that some behavior is evil. Probably it’s my atheist thing?

  28. I can’t think of a specific post, but Lisa, ALL of your posts, by their very nature and sensibility, remind me to be kind or at least civil in my dealings with others. And your prose inspires me often!

    You know I’m a big fan of Grechen…for her honesty, fearlessness, her integrity, and her pure joy of dressing herself. She’s a gem!

  29. Without having read any previous comments, I think you are so fortunate to have your father. Blessings to both of you – kathleen

Comments are closed.