The Price of Civility

Today as I arrived at our office in New York for a 9 a.m. meeting,  a number of us entered the elevator. This elevator requires that you have a building pass which you have to electronically swipe to be able to push the floor you want.

A well dressed gentleman with silver hair entered, and without a glance at the other four of us, plopped his briefcase down to keep the elevator door from closing. This presumably so he could pull out his pass. Well, he pulled out his wallet and put it up against the electronic sensor. It didn’t work and he vainly tried to push his floor. He repeated this exercise twice, thrice, four times, as everyone else got increasingly annoyed. Another elevator arrived across the way. All of the rest of us dashed into it, leaving the adage of insanity being the emphatic repetition of what doesn’t work, to continue to be demonstrated behind us.

“What was he doing?” asked an incredulous woman, once we were safely on our way. I explained what it seemed he was attempting. It seemed obvious that he could have, and should have done one or more of the following:

*Apologize to everyone else and ask for their forebearance.

*Pull his card out of his wallet and see if a direct engagement with the electronic sensor would work.

*Step out and ask the lobby attendant who was nearby for help.

I audibly bemoaned the absence of civility. As we were moving up various floors, one of my fellow passengers said, “You know after 9/11 there was an upsurge of civility and awareness of other people, and it’s started to slide back down again unfortunately.”

I agreed, commenting that it would be a shame if it took a cataclysm or a horrific act to “shock” us into having manners. Surely we can do better.

Now perhaps I’m generalizing from an isolated incident. Perhaps, but I doubt it. Obliviousness does seem rampant. As professionals, as neighbors, as citizens…it would be nice if we could transcend self-absorption enough to see if we can help each other along the way. The price of civility isn’t high — but its impact is often profound.

Yesterday at Whole Foods, in the queue waiting for an open register, someone took a place that was rightfully that of the neighboring line. An elegant lady tried to intervene but was rebuffed by these rude and “rushed” people. She turned to those next to her and said, “No problem, when my turn comes, you take it, as they were in my line.” I smiled and thanked her on their behalf . She said, “It’s the least I could do.” It wasn’t.  But I wish we could all remember to behave as if it were.

Try it in work, in business dealings, in transactions and interactions. Work will flow better, relationships will be more robust, loyalty will flourish. And you’ll do your part in cultivating a world we’ll all more readily enjoy living in.