It seems a young woman was a guest for tea with Queen Elizabeth II in the Buckingham Palace gardens. She was actually sitting with the Queen, sipping tea and conversing with her when her cell phone started ringing. She looked at her purse in horror: yes, the sound was coming from her bag! The Queen leaned over and said casually, “Maybe you should get it. It might be someone important.”
Oh, the humiliation! Queen Elizabeth IS ‘someone important!’
But what about our husband or wife, sitting across the table – are they not also ‘someone important’? What about the people standing next to us at the Southwest Airlines counter? The salesman at Home Depot who is trying to help with the paint chips? How ‘important’ does a person have to be before we are courteous to them?
This true story not only goes to the very heart of the matter of cell phone etiquette, but also to the very essence of etiquette itself. Etiquette is based on courtesy, and courtesy is based on the belief that each person is important. This very thing determines a savage or a civilized society: how is the individual treated? We speak of civil rights, civility, gentility, and courtesy. These concepts all are based on the idea of the value of the individual, and they lead to social order. The ideas of ‘courtesy’ and ‘selfishness’ are antithetical.
Do we dare apply this principle, not only broadly, to society at large, but also to our moment-by-moment, daily grind and interaction with others, such as the use of cell phones or putting our grocery carts back in their corrals? This nitty-gritty application, of course, is the very thing which makes our society either civilized or not.
The word ‘civility’ comes from the Latin ‘civitas’, meaning ‘city’ – people living, working, moving in proximity. For the gears of a city to work smoothly, the oil of civility must be applied. When each individual honors and elevates those near at hand, acts as if they were “someone important”, the oil of civility flows freely, gears mesh smoothly, friction is reduced, progress is made. Voila! A smoothly running ‘civitas’.
The etiquette concerning cell phones is only a particular instance of a deeper reality. But it’s a good place to start.
Next time, we can look at some of the more minute details, but this story is so very basic, goes to the deepest levels of civility, and indeed, civilization itself. …… Keep your eyes open… Look around you… See if you can spot the idea of “someone important” (or not!) in the grocery store, on the freeway, around the table….
Yours, for the return of Grace, Civility, Beauty, Gentility, and Excellence,