The Finances of Civility

Love may always be known by its expenditures. The way I expend myself and extend myself for my fellows reveals my love. Is this love for others, or for myself?

346764_origArland D. Williams’ expenditure is well known. When Air Florida Flight 90 smashed into the frozen Potomac in the middle of a snowstorm, all but six passengers were killed. A helicopter crew arrived to rescue survivors from the icy water. They threw a life-ring to Arland. He immediately gave it to the passenger next to him. When the helicopter came back, he did the same thing again. And again. When the helicopter came back a final time, Arland was dead. He had used his last ounce of strength to save his fellow survivors, complete strangers. (from Wikipedia)  

Civility expends itself for its neighbor. Arland’s was the ultimate, unselfish expenditure.

This is the meaning of true civility: living unselfishly among our fellows. The word Civility comes from the Latin word ‘civitas’, meaning ‘city’ – people living, moving, and working together smoothly and well. Civility is the oil which allows the gears of a city to mesh and to move. It is kindness and respect for the others it lives, moves, and works among. Civility spends its resources (time, strength, patience…) investing in its neighbor and in its ‘civitas.’

Was Arland’s sacrifice a momentary, thought-out decision, or an instinctual response stemming from a lifetime of habitual concern for others? I believe it had to be the latter. In a moment of panic and extreme stress, who we are becomes what we do. Arland had a fiancé waiting for him; he wanted to live. His soul, however, encompassed something larger than himself.

I believe this kind of extreme civility must come from extreme investment. It must come from a lifetime of small expenditures that add up over time, an ‘after you’ mentality that allows others to take precedence, that offers its seat, lets someone merge, doesn’t interrupt, allows someone to express thoughts it would not – one small investment after another – right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, in the creation of something truly great. These little investments we make, one step at a time as we walk through life, grow into a large, unconscious, and unselfish way of living, robust even in the face of extremes.

Investment is defined as ‘an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.’ “Please go ahead.” “You first.” When members of any ‘civitas’ determine to make these small investments, they become co-creators in a society where all can flourish, and harmony abounds.  Love’s expenditures, these seemingly insignificant, habitual payments we make, are the small-but-sturdy building blocks of our ‘civitas’ and our culture. A worthwhile result. A worthwhile investment.

We must be grateful and express our gratitude when we receive love’s little expenditures from others, and we must practice them ourselves, whether anyone notices or not. This is Civility. This is the knife-edge civilization rests upon – a shared mentality that can bind a culture together or break it apart at the seams.

Yours for the investment in grace, civility, beauty, gentility, and excellence,

Mary Alice