We measure not by duration
the value of our moments
but by grace.
People and places steal away
as quietly as the swan and mallard
who pause, then swim on.
Ripples fade imperceptibly:
in their wake
a merging of souls.
Sara Hacala’s book, Saving Civility, begins with this sublime quote by Einstein: "A human being is part of a whole, called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest...a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." She then evokes the ridiculous in her introduction, “The Rise of Rude, Crude, and Attitude”. What caught my attention was the sub-heading: “How We’re All Part of the Problem”, then this passage: “What I find alarming is how polite and respectful behavior is vanishing from our world today. We behave and treat one another badly in our day-to-day lives, conduct that causes our relationships and our society at large to fragment and deteriorate, and we are all suffering as a result. Treating people well, and having the crucial ability to develop and maintain meaningful relationships, provides the essential grease that makes our own lives and the rest of the world go round. When that art is lost or missing, we spin out of control into chaos...Enough is enough. It is time to become uncommonly polite for the common good of all.”
And for more reasons than a sunny disposition. Ms. Hacala led me to another book, Connected, by Harvard professor and health-care policy specialist Nicholas A. Christakis and University of California, San Diego, political science professor James Fowler. I am now reading these two books in tandem. In Napa terms, a good pairing. Christakis and Fowler are responsible for the Three Degrees of Influence Rule: “We influence and are influenced by people up to three degrees removed from us, most of whom we do not even know.”
How they came together and what ensued is told in a thoughtful and provocative work that underscores the significance of relationship between individuals and their networks: social, business, and cultural. They conclude that these interactions not only develop the greater good of the group and its members but also “create epidemics of obesity, smoking and substance abuse; disseminate fads and markets; alter voting patterns”, among others. The whole, they agree, is greater than the sum of the parts.
We humans are seldom aware of our realm of influence or the impact of seemingly insignificant moments. A kind word can lift a tired heart just as a rude gesture can crush a fragile soul. Since tired hearts and fragile souls are often housed in sturdy bodies, we rarely know the truth of one who stands before us or passes in the next lane. Saving civility is critical because we are connected. We don’t have the luxury of six degrees of separation. To paraphrase St. Francis of Assisi, the deeds we do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today. We are all part of the problem. With civility, with awareness of connection, we can chose to be part of the solution.