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Civility Through Wonder

November 24, 2010

Civility Through Wonder

By Malcolm L. Rigsby

Socrates once said that “wisdom begins in wonder“.  To wonder about the world and our society and to examine it through open and objective investigation may lead us to wisdom and deep understanding of each other.  To wonder is a human trait.  To wonder about the underlying similarities that we as people all possess should provide a firm foundation for building strength and unity of people though recognizing the positive role of diversity.  There is diversity in all things and people.  People share basic common interests and needs, but may seek their satisfaction in a myriad of ways.  Often it is the pathway which is misunderstood and leads to stereotyping of groups.  Often we focus on the pathways and fail to recognize the similarities that flow throughout all human lives.  Stead fast position taking often creates unyielding boundaries and distinctions that segregate us and create barriers to cooperation and respect.  Because political leaders and government authorities are often held accountable for the positions they have stated to the public, true understanding of common needs and human interests that we all seek to satisfy may be hindered or obviated.  Stated politicized positions get in the way of seeking true human interests.  The process of civil social movement begins with the common needs of people.  When diverse people seek to uncover these basic common qualities with the goal of empathetic respect, cooperative bonds may take root.  This fertile process provides the essence of grass roots social movement calling for human rights and decent treatment of all citizens.  This was the foundation of such great movements as those led by Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela.  Aided by academic and other influential non-governmental segments of society these social movements are often empowered and enabled to influence governmental leaders to seek better civil processes that satisfy deep human needs. 

When it comes to peoples need for deep seated humanity and civility, commonalities can unite us as long as we are willing to recognize them.  It is wonder, coupled with objective search and investigation of what is about us that leads to uncovering and comprehending common human needs and interests; in short, humanity. 

Civility is a prize to be ever sought after and never treated as a given.  Mark Twain stated;

“travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” 

It seems appropriate that what Twain alludes to is taking a risk.  To reach out and make connections with others involves a degree of risk.  In recalling an old AT&T advertisement, one must be willing to reach out and touch someone in order to develop understanding.  To connect with other cultures, or meet others that have different identities and ways requires us to put away stigmatizing baggage that blind-shadows objectivity.

When civility and humanity are abused each one of us must take responsibility for creating order and setting things straight as best possible.  We may each play our part by seeking honesty and integrity in our relationships with others.  Every well built relationship, much like a building, requires a blueprint.  If we are not willing to seek our foundational blueprint in our common interests that arise from basic human needs, we will continually have fault lines in our relationships.  Fault lines jeopardize and weaken any foundation.  When we construct a strong foundation upon common interests and needs, and when we are willing to cultivate relationships upon truth and dignity, we may build upon them with cooperation and trust.  Then, we may create positive path-ways to civility and human dignity.

Malcolm L. Rigsby is a faculty member in sociology at Ouachita Baptist University, completing his Ph.D. at Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas.  He is a 1979 graduate of Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas.  He holds his J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law and is a licensed attorney in Arkansas and Texas.


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