People often make fun of the sitcoms I grew up watching. I'm referring to Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriett, Father Knows Best, etc. If interested you can watch entire episodes of these programs on You Tube. Now I must warn you if you're looking for violence, gratuitous sex, lewdness and profanity you probably want to stay with today's television offerings rather than taking this journey down memory lane.
While entertainment choices are certainly a matter of personal preference, few could argue that the bygone programs seem to have been based on a collective societal definition of morality and civility not so commonly held in our day. It is not my place to moralize or tell folks what their life values should be. I do, however, want to make the case that civility in marriage appears to be vanishing today and I hope to make the case that this is a tragic, and costly, mistake.
A couple of years ago the Farmington Library chose the book "Choosing Civility" by P. M. Forni for their "One Book, One City" campaign. The book is subtitled "The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct" and I wholeheartedly recommend it for citizens of all ages. Just think how marriages could improve if spouses more actively and purposefully practiced civility in their relationship. Take your imagination to a citywide level and picture your community where politeness, cooperation and true caring were the norm rather than the exception.
I knew Tory Larsen was a big fan of the book so I called him to find out why. Tory is the manager of Health, Safety and Environment for the Aztec Well Family of Companies. He told me that in the book Forni makes the case that "rules of civil living reinforce what most of our parents taught us." He went on to add that the information contained in "Choosing Civility" "helps people (married couples obviously included) to share guidelines on how to conduct their relationship. When all parties operate by the same rules, they have a far better chance of working well together."
Dave Florez, Pastor of the Journey Church and Teen Services Coordinator at the Farmington Library, is also a fan of "Choosing Civility." He told me he believes "civility is essential for life, especially in marriage as it protects you from taking each other for granted." "Civility," he maintains, "keeps you grounded and helps to maintain trust and respect between spouses."
Now I promise you I am not a commissioned salesman for "Choosing Civility." I am, however, an advocate for what it proposes. Among my favorite of the 25 rules is No. 3: Think the Best. I often encourage couples I am working with, or participants in my workplace workshops to practice AGW, which stands for Assume Good Will. This concept helps you to give your partner or associate the benefit of the doubt when he or she does something totally human and flawed. It keeps you from overreacting and making a situation worse than it perhaps has to be. Forni puts it this way: "When we approach others assuming that they are good, honest, and sensitive, we often encourage them to be just that."
Rule No. 6 in "Choosing Civility" is "Speak Kindly." When I am working with couples in distress I will often ask them to write down two or three positive qualities about their mate. I'll then have them read them one at a time to each other. I am always amazed at how one partner can receive a positive comment and give no responses what-so-ever. I have to coach them to say "thank you." And then, you guessed it, I typically have to coach the other to say "you're welcome." This typically invokes laughter after which I make the point that the common courtesies that we give to total strangers we often withhold from those closest to us and this is flat out wrong. So if "please" "thank you" and "you're welcome" have not been heard around your house in a while let me encourage you to resurrect this old practice and see if you don't start to notice a happier, more pleasant environment. As Forni puts it: "speaking with consideration and kindness is at the heart of civil behavior."
"Choosing Civility" is not purported to be a marriage enriching book, but I challenge you to read it together and begin to apply its principles and see if you feel it merits that designation. Practicing behaviors such as "accept and give praise," "listen," "be agreeable" are bound to have a positive impact over the short and long term of you marriage.
I plan to talk more about civility in marriage on my radio program TWOgether as ONE at 6 p.m. this Monday on KLJH 107.1 FM. I hope you can tune in then and I would so appreciate hearing your thoughts on how civility is a key ingredient in the overall success and health of your marriage. Please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and don't be at all surprised to read them in a future column.