We are past due for a review of basic manners and civic responsibility.
Such reviews used to happen every nine weeks when schools sent report cards home. At the bottom of the report card was a box titled “Citizenship.” Teachers placed check marks indicating “satisfactory” or “needs improvement” for categories like: courtesy, self-control, works well with others, and shows respect for rights and property of others.
As if the national headlines aren’t enough to warrant revisiting common courtesy and personal responsibility, I was again reminded of the need while scrolling through my NextDoor app, which is sometimes useful for knowing the best company in the area for cleaning dryer vents or removing trees, and recommendations for dentists and doctors.
But this day on my feed was a video of a little old lady walking her dog. She paused, looked over her shoulder and waited for a car to pass by, then shook the contents of her doggie’s plastic bag onto a neighbor’s driveway and scurried away.
A few days later, there was a video of a young man (or “little jerk” as the homeowner referred to him) stealing a bike from an open garage. In both cases, comments were filled with outrage along the lines of: “What’s the matter with people?” “Is that old lady crazy or evil?” “Doesn’t that kid have any respect for other people’s property?”
On the old report cards, citizenship was divided into two parts: citizenship as an individual and as a member of a group. Evaluation as an individual included: makes good use of time and material, depends upon self, shows self-control and does his best.
If I were wielding the black ink pen, I would give the little old lady “needs improvement” on making good use of time and material—although she did make good use of time as she was swift about dumping the doggie bag.
The young man stealing the bike might rate “satisfactory” in “depending upon self” as he worked alone; but he bombed in “shows self-control.”
It’s what you do when you think no one is watching that constitutes character.
Of course, these days we are so lapsed in judgment that some people enjoy recording themselves, or others, behaving like Cretans.
The outlook darkens considerably under “citizenship as member of a group.” The little old lady and bike thief both get “needs improving” for “respects rights and property of others.”
It’s interesting that the evaluations started with citizenship as individuals, followed by evaluation a group. You can’t experience the stability of good citizenship as a group unless you first have it as individuals.
Where do people learn basic courtesy, self-control and respect for the rights and property of others? Where all learning begins—in the home and in the family.
Because there will be no report card coming in the next nine weeks evaluating our personal behavior, some self-evaluation on civility and citizenship might be in order in our homes and families. Satisfactory or needs improvement?
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Contact her at [email protected].