So Uncivilized: On Civilizing a City and its Citizens, and Some General Rules for the General Public

~ Madame de Pompadour by Maurice Quentin de La Tour

Civilizations are more than cities. They are more than brick and mortar. The pyramids are the most popular symbols of Egypt, but they do not define the Egyptian civilization by themselves. Structures alone, no matter how magnificent and pompous, do not define a civilization. They are simply the products of engineers, designers, architects, masons, and the occasional daydreamers/visionaries of a civilization.

A city is a product of civilization. In today’s world, every country has cities; but is every country civilized? Are their citizens civilized? If one would come up with a checklist for a civilization, it would most probably contain most of elements below:

  1. Cities
  2. Laws
  3. Religion
  4. Writing
  5. Trade and industry
  6. Division of labor

Civilizations are made up of a lot of people and cities are the only way to house a huge population. A huge population, on the other hand, requires governance. In the physical realm of our existence, laws govern a nation. In the spiritual domains of the afterlife, religion is humanity’s guide. Both laws and religion are indispensible.

But human beings are also apt to forget and slow to remember. In order to give laws and religion their permanence and power, they need to be written down. And in order to do so, a system of writing is required. Hence, the general consensus among historians that writing is an essential element of a civilized community.

Besides that, a civilization is normally distinguished by the main form of economic activity that its inhabitance are involved in. Some civilizations are agrarian; this means that their major economic activity involves agriculture. Other civilizations are maritime nations and rely on trade. Division of labor is also equally important. No one human being can be equality good at being a porter, soldier, painter, blacksmith, farmer and poet. In civilizations, citizens specialize and do what they are good at.

So far our analysis of the basic building blocks of a civilization is sound and solid. But if we stop here, we are missing one important point. Civilizations are about people. A civilization is defined by its people. Without people, civilizations would cease to exist.

As a general rule, civilizations must be made up of civilized people. And to be civilized is to adopt a state of mind that transcends into a person’s behavior, habits, actions, and ways of thinking.

To be a civilized is to be a cultured. And to be cultured is often misunderstood with having a thick Bible-like rulebook on protocols and manners. Nothing can be so far away from the truth. Protocols and manners do matter a lot, but in excess they are an encumbrance. They hinder productivity, they delay processes, and far worse, they appear haughty and snobbish. Too many protocols can be disastrous. In fact, they are bad manners in certain occasions if perceived to be applied in order to elevate the status of their practitioners.

What then is a cultured person?

The cultured man is one that applies the right protocols at the right time, in the right place, and towards the right person. He has good manners and treats all his fellow men with dignity, and respect. He deeply cares about the world and its inhabitance and therefore gains considerable knowledge about the both of them. He thinks before he speaks and reads before he thinks. The cultured man is levelheaded and humble. He learns continuously. He is never arrogant or boastful. In speech, he is a brilliant conversationalist and excels at social events. Above all, he never tells a joke that isn’t funny.

In the world today, we often see a lack of protocol instead of an excess of it. And worse, many people lack manners. Knowledge is a rare commodity as well. These shortcomings are the mark of the poorly educated, the less cultured and the nearly uncivilized.

Below are some rules for the general public to follow.

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General Rules for the General Public

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 1. Know Thyself; but Other People are Important Too

Most people love talking about themselves. It is almost a universal trend.  But if everyone is talking about himself, who is listening? When Socrates said: Know Thyself, he didn’t mean that we should stop there. Learn about other people, other cultures, and their civilizations. Educated yourself. Soon you will realize that people admire you more for knowing a little something about them. But never be proud or boastful. That is bad taste. Learn to listen and speak only at the right time to not interrupt someone that is already talking.

The cultured man is a learned man; but he is also a man that knows how to listen.

 2. Manners Matter

This rule is elementary. Manners matter. If you are a salesperson, having good manners might win you a lot of customers. So work with a smile. It’s contagious. Smile and the whole world smiles with you, frown and you frown alone (and lose that business deal).

Always hold the door open even for strangers. Stand in the line and queue up if you are meant to (this is often mandatory). Give up your seat for the elderly and others that have more need of it (especially pregnant women). When you are driving, honk sparingly and not at every opportunity.

When you are addressing someone for the first time, always, I repeat, ALWAYS call a person by his name. ‘What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ This quote is sensible in literature but its horrible in reality. CALL people by their name. I assure you, a person’s name is the sweetest thing to his ears.

Manners matter.

3. Respect Others to be Respected

As a general rule, do not make racist remarks. Respect other religions. Never discriminate by gender (but always hold the door open for women). When talking about politics, tread lightly. Give other people a chance to voice their views. Do not overrule the opinions of other people or threaten them at gunpoint to accept yours.

Respect other people and you will be respected. 

4. Purge Problematic Public practices

There are many public practices that are vile, disgusting, and unwelcomed. Never spit in front of other people. Do not snore in public (you should not be sleeping in public either). Never burp after a meal in public; if you have to do something that other people would deem repulsive, always go to the washroom. 

Always be mindful of your surroundings and your actions in public. To be disgusting is to be uncivilized.

5. Cash is King; Free Things Are Divine! I Think Not.

Most societies are increasingly materialistic. This is partly due to urbanization and capitalism. Nothing is really free in the world we live in. Everything has a cost; if not, it has at least an opportunity cost. It is quite common to see that people are very excited over anything that is given for free these days. A crowd would gather immediately the moment something free is placed in view. And when the pushing, pulling, yanking and cursing starts, the crowd cease to be a crowd and become a mob.

Nothing is more degrading than cutting the line for something free. It shows your true nature, namely, you are cheap. Money is all you care for; even at the expense of being civilized. Be the better man. Stand in line. Take only one free item for yourself and nothing more. Do not be like the guy next to you who sees something free and grabs an entire carton for himself. How uncivilized.

Cash may be king in a capitalist society. But the uncivilized man is no better than a stupid barbarian.

6. The More (Noise) the Merrier

Communication is key. Everyone agrees with the importance of being able to channel what you think effectively to the listener. Politicians gain power by being better public speakers. Lecturers teach better if they do not bore their students to sleep. But being louder does not mean you communicate better.

Being loud and communicating clearly is two very different things. You can be loud and still be an idiot in communication. And to be honest, most of the time a person that talks to loudly fails to communicate clearly. Worse, a person who talks loudly is a nuisance to the general public and innocent bystanders that have no choice but to swallow everything you say. This is especially true when you are in enclosed areas like elevators, theaters, and the cinema.

To quote a personal experience, I was in a cinema waiting to watch the Prince of Persia when suddenly the guy seated in front of me literally shouted to his friend, “WHAT IS THIS SHOW ABOUT?” His friend next to him responded, “OH! IT’S A COMBOY SHOW WHERE PEOPLE IN THE WEST FIGHT EACH OTHER.”

What an idiot.

Being stupid is one thing. Being a confident idiot and broadcasting your stupidity to the wider world is another category altogether. It defines a new level of stupidity.

Golden Rule: Being noisy does not make you smart, influential, or powerful. It sure won’t make you civilized either. And if you say something stupid, the whole wide world will know that your brain is actually a black hole.

7. Table Manners

Always wait for everyone to be seated before beginning your meal. If you know that some of your guests are religious, wait until they finish their prayers. Always start with the cutlery on the outside and work your way in. Remember that there are bowls of water meant for washing and not for drinking. During buffets, never take more than you eat. Always take small portions and do not pile up your food as if you are trying to win a Guinness record. Above all, never take too many oysters. Leave some for other people.

Table manners are the mark of a cultured man. Always adhere for your own good.

 

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