The Importance of Being Civil

On a recent sunny afternoon in downtown Cincinnati, a large mobile shredding truck was parked in the middle of Perry Street, a tiny one-way street the runs behind the main firehouse near Fourth a

Feb 13, 2008 at 2:06 pm
Sean Hughes

Bk Broiling

On a recent sunny afternoon in downtown Cincinnati, a large mobile shredding truck was parked in the middle of Perry Street, a tiny one-way street the runs behind the main firehouse near Fourth and Central streets.

Inside the back of the truck was a man busy at work surrounded by a few large garbage cans — the kind with big wheels on them — apparently loaded with documents not to be seen by anyone else. Behind the truck were four cars waiting to get past the truck. I was in one of them.

After a few minutes, I got out of my car and walked up to the big box truck and yelled up to the guy standing in the back, shredding.

"Hey, could you pull over to the side? There are about four cars waiting to get past you," I said.

"When I'm done," the man said and continued on with his work.

A little enraged, I engaged him again.

"Well, this is the only way to get to some places along this road, including the firehouse," I said.

"You need to pull over to the side. You have plenty of room."

"You can call the police if you want, but by time they get here I will be done," he said. "You'll just have to wait."

I was getting annoyed and yelled back at him.

"You have plenty of room to move to the side," I told him. "And I'll do you one better. I'll go get my camera and take a photo of you and post it on the Internet. And I'm going to call your office."

So I went back to my car and grabbed my camera, which I almost always have with me. I walked up to the side of the truck where the man had his back to me as he stuffed paper through the shredder. He briefly turned around, and I fired off several shots of him while he tried to duck behind a trash can.

I then got back in my car and called the number on the side of the truck. A woman answered the phone, presumably the receptionist. I, well, sort of demanded to speak to a supervisor after I told her what was going on. About 30 seconds later a nice man came on the phone, I gave him the quick scenario and he assured me he'd call the worker in the truck and he would move right away.

I thanked him and waited for another five minutes. He never moved. Disgusted, I finally left and drove back down the street the wrong way.

Terry Grundy, an urban lobbying professor at the University of Cincinnati, is big on manners. He reads about them, talks about them and thinks about them. Unlike a male version of Miss Manners, he doesn't dwell on an endless list of etiquette rules but instead focuses on the core of all manners: civility.

Civility seems to be missing in today's society.

Remembering which side of the plate goes the fork and if it's appropriate to tell a shredding truck driver to go shove it up his cross-cutter doesn't require a prior consultation with a guru, but simply remembering civility is the basis for civilization, society and community. We've drifted way too far away from those ideals, and I think we're worse off for it.

Like any good journalist, I love me a little conflict. It makes for an interesting story. Too often, however, the anguish of past transgressions or greed or selfishness or righteousness or whatever gets in the way of our community-building. I'm guilty, too.

This isn't a lecture, it's a hope.

Our community — not just downtown and Over-the-Rhine, where I live, but Northern Kentucky, West Chester, Lawrenceburg and Batavia and beyond and in between — grows and blossoms and continues down a path of achieving our full potential. We must work together, listen to every side and truly engage each person no matter who they are, where they work, how much money they make or how well they speak in front of an audience.

And we can't work against each other. Let's not write off people or groups of people or ideas just because they're not exactly what we envision. We can achieve much more together than we can as silos operating independently.

In Over-the-Rhine, the reminders of what a great community used to look like are etched on the buildings and sidewalks and streets. It must have been neat to live there back then.

Civility and a little manners could help bring it all back.

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: [email protected]