Author of Choosing Civility Presents Convocation at Mount Union College

April 05, 2010

According to P.M. Forni, author of the book Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct, civility and manners are important for one reason ' they are not only about our own happiness, but also about the happiness of others.

'When we talk about manners, when we talk about how we treat others, we talk about ethical behavior,' said Forni to a packed house in Mount Union Theatre Thursday that included the College's entire freshmen class, who read Forni's book as part of the LS 100 selected summer reading program. This is the seventh year for the summer reading assignment.

Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct identifies the 25 rules that are most essential in connecting effectively and contentedly with others. Throughout this book, Forni discusses skills needed in order to gain and maintain social support. Some of these skills include thinking twice before asking for favors, respecting others opinions, giving constructive criticism and refraining from idle complaints. Since being published in 2002, it has been translated into German and Italian.

During his presentation, Forni introduced the three perspectives of civility ' the Jiffy Lube view and the aesthetic view of civility were the two he discussed first.

'Civility can serve as a lubricant that makes the machine of human civility run smoothly,' said Forni, who also presented the Dewald Lecture Wednesday night on Mount Union's campus. 'But, civility can also be seen as something belonging to the realm of aesthetics. It is the art of living in this view and is seen as a thing of beauty.

'Perhaps what I consider to be the most important perspective, though, is civility as it belongs to the realm of ethics,' he added. 'We have to have the ability to distinguish between right from wrong and then choose right over wrong.'

These three perspectives, which he summarized as expediency, beauty and goodness, do not exist independently of each other. 'We don't have to choose one over the other,' said Forni. 'Civility is all three of these things.'

So why should we make civility a part of our daily lives? Forni explained that there are three compelling arguments to do so ' the connection between civility and ethics, the connection between incivility and violence and the connection between civility and longevity in live.

'There is a connection between civility and the principle of respect for other people,' said Forni. 'We ought to treat others as ends in themselves as opposed to means to our own needs and desires. If you want to be an ethical person, you have to be a civil person.'

Forni continued by saying that there is also an undeniable connection between incivility and violence ' that rudeness can easily escalate into violent acts.

'There are 1.8 million acts of violence in the American workplace every year,' he said. 'There are many more acts of incivility that go unrecorded.

'But we also need to look at the bigger picture,' he added. 'In order to live a long and serene life, we need to be part of a network of people for whom we love and care.'

Whether the family, colleagues at work, a softball team or other groups of friends and acquaintances, Forni says that we need structures of social support. In order to gain and maintain such social networks, we need social skills and social skills come from civility.

'If you forget everything else I say to you today, remember this ' life is relational, a relational experience,' he said. 'We are all swimming in the social ocean, and to a large extent, the quality of our lives depends upon the quality of a relationships. And, the quality or our relationships depends on our relational skills.
'We need others to be happy, and they need us to be happy,' he added.

According to Forni there four essential realizations every person needs to make in order to be a decent human being and create happiness ' what he calls the Four Fundamental Truths.

'First, you need to realize that people matter ' not only do you matter but other people matter just as much as you do,' said Forni. 'We also need to understand, as a second essential realization, that actions have consequences, not just for you but for other people as well.'

Forni noted as a third realization that people have to stop and think before acting.

'You may be familiar with the slogan 'Just Do It,'' he said. 'Well, I'm hear to tell you not to. Instead, just stop and think about it. You owe it to yourself and others.

'Finally, and what I think is the most essential realization, is that we must learn the difference between fun and happiness,' he added. Forni believes that fun is short sighted and relies on dumb luck to avoid disasters while happiness is far sighted and relies on rational and smart planning.

'I'm not saying you should not have fun,' he said. 'Do it and pursue it with a clear notion in mind that it does not always produce happiness.'

Forni concluded his presentation by discussing the two ways one can become successful in life ' treating others badly or treating them very well.'

'There are people who certainly achieve success by manipulation, intimidation and bullying,' said Forni. 'These people can do very well in the short run. But we also can achieve highly desirable position and goals by being good. What would you choose ' the jerk or the nice guy? Since the outcome is equal, it makes sense to choose to be nice because you get the prize and you get to feel good about it.'

Forni graduated from the University of Pavia in 1974. He earned a doctoral degree in Italian from the University of California Los Angeles in 1981. Forni has written and edited several books on the work of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) and in 1997 he co-founded the Johns Hopkins Civility Project.

Forni also has received numerous awards such as an International Association of Protocol Consultants Outstanding Achievement Award, School of Continuing Studies and Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award and an Outstanding Faculty Award for his undergraduate teaching from Johns Hopkins University. He is a member of the Millennium Speakers Bureau, the Maryland Humanities Council and Maryland Commission for Celebration and he has been awarded a certificate of appreciation from the Cecil County Health Department of Maryland and a Kenan Grant for undergraduate teaching.

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