“You want a different taxi?” questioned the airport person at the curb in a surprised tone.
“Yes,” I insisted, “I want a different taxi,” noticing that our assigned driver was continuing to slam the trunk lid of his car on the oversized suitcase.
Finally, the airport person noticed that something appeared to be wrong with the driver behaving strangely immediately in front of him. He quickly assigned us to another cab and instructed our former driver to go and see someone. I’m assuming that the “someone” would probably tell him that he was not fit to drive. At least I hoped so.
It occurs to me that people often think of civility as being nice. Niceness, courtesy and polite behavior certainly have their place, but speaking out with courage is also a critical element in civil behavior. If civility is a form of goodness, as indicated by Dr. P. M. Forni, then it cannot possibly be a good thing to allow someone to continue in a behavior that puts him, her or others in danger without comment. In fact, failure to speak a warning—even if the other may not listen—could be considered some of the most uncivil behavior of all.
Let’s say that Maggie feels taken advantage of by her husband, Greg. She does her best to meet his needs and adjust her schedule to accommodate his, all the time becoming more and more frustrated and resentful because he fails to see how exhausted and overwhelmed she is feeling. One evening when he walks in the door and asks, “What’s for dinner?” she goes ballistic.
“Why is it always my job to fix dinner, Greg? You could help out with dinner once in a while you know,” she explodes.
Of course, Greg is caught off guard by what he thought was a simple question. He has no way of knowing how Maggie is feeling because she has failed to let him know in real and specific ways about her concerns and how she would like his assistance. Maggie’s natural tendency to help others, along with her peacekeeper personality, have contributed to her inability to ask for what she needs, namely that Greg help out with some specific tasks at home. She needs his help so that she can better manage the all the stressors she is experiencing.
Whereas Maggie needs to speak up about her need for greater help with household chores, other more serious concerns may also require speaking up with courage. This is especially true if a loved one struggles with some sort of addictive behavior or substance. It may be necessary when a health-related concern (e.g. high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes) is revealed. It may mean getting a spouse on board to handle a troublesome parenting issue. Whatever the matter, there are times in the lives of most families, that speaking up with conviction is required.
Many folks who are reluctant to speak up fear that doing so will be perceived as impolite and unloving. While it’s true that we need to “speak the truth in love” with a recognition that each of us is a work in progress, failing to speak out when someone or something we care about is in danger may be the most uncivil, unkind behavior of all.