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Civility in Hunketown # 2

Insiders and Outsiders – What Washington learned…

President Washington’s “Rules of Civility” were what the young Washington copied from a book, entitled, Youth’s Behavior, Or, Decencie in Conversation Among Men, by Francis Hawkins, published in 1668.  The original material for Hawkins’ book came from a 1595 French Jesuit text, entitled   “Bienseance de la conversation entre les homes.”  Apropos for clergy and laymen, no doubt, as those who were literate at this time were of an upper class within society, this work was intended for young men of privilege.  Thus, in civil society, it would have been presented to them by their parents, mentors, or teachers with the sole intent of helping their young men become pleasing, to advance, and be respected and influential.  The chapter that grabbed young George’s attention was “The Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.”  The manuscript of rules that he copied down was simply entitled, “The Rules of Civility,” with his original being preserved at the Library of Congress.

  1. “Every Action done in Company ought to be with Some Sign of Respect to those that are Present.”

Commentary: To accomplish such action requires that you know yourself and know the company you are in.  If you practice some form of mindfulness discipline, then, being in a higher level of integrity within yourself, not only will that present an aire that is pleasing, but you will naturally be more attentive to the responses of those around you. At the same time, if the social or political dimensions of the encounter require a higher level of decorum and/or sensitivity to social or cultural nuances of those present, then it is good to have knowledge of these aspects and/or be informed accordingly.

      In general, try not to let people feel left out, even if you are not talking to them specifically.  We all know what it feels like when there is an insider feeling and we are on the outside.

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Civility in Hunkertown

Civility in Hunkertown: Staying Civil and Sane in Close Quarters

I do not know when the term, “to hunker down” began.  It has a reasonable etymological background.  “Hunker” is close to the German and Dutch for to squat or crouch.  But with “down” it is about staying in one place for a duration of time.  In the Cambridge dictionary, it also says that this “hunkering down” should be done “comfortably.”

But, we are not in a “comfortable” time.  Although life is, as the Buddhist saying explains, “fragile as a bubble,” we tend to want to live our lives with some sense of permanence, despite what the reality is.  But in the reality of COVID 19 and the massive shutdown of commerce, hence our livelihoods, the precariousness of it all is looking at us up close and personally.

Within just a few weeks more of us are living in the way our ancestors did – in nuclear or extended families or cadres, with the exception of – sadly – many of our elders.  Beyond our elders, there are some who live in isolation – like hermits.  But, the majority are now in their own homes or apartments, “hunkered down.”  Not going to work or working from home, doing school online, sharing the bathroom, the kitchen, the living spaces with greater frequency and duration than any time in their lives.  And many of our distractions and forms of entertainment are out of reach – and shutdown as well.

Our domiciles are now the main walls or boundaries in which we live.  And so, I would like to suggest that the space be given a proper name: Hunkertown.

This reality, living in Hunkertown, is just settling in and we may continue to live in such close quarters for a time far beyond what is comfortable.

Getting use to each other, communicating in person rather than virtually require the resurrection of old skills or the building of new ones.  If this is to be done for the greatest peace and cooperation, we need to develop skills to stay sane within ourselves and civil to each other.

In my book, The Path of Civility, I look at the teachings of the Buddha as they pertain to communication and communal and community living and the lessons employed by American President George Washington, who used a book written in the 1600s that focused on “The Rules of Civility.”

The purpose of these messages will be to use the quotes of the Buddha or the rules by which Washington lived and offer my commentary for these times in order to make your lives and the lives of those around you more harmonious and fulfilling.  Civility is not about playing nice.  It is about helping people to work and interact with others to support healthy, productive relationships and collective action.

That will be my job.  So, I’ll keep you posted often.  You’re in the loop.