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HEARTS of the CITY | Navigating the Real World

A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of philosophy, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

September 04, 1996|K. CONNIE KANG, Times staff writer

Today's question: Civility sometimes seems like a thing of the past. Checkout clerks at supermarkets don't apologize when patrons note that they've been overcharged. Taxi drivers smoke without asking for their customers' permission. Fellow motorists cut in front of cars without signaling, nearly causing accidents. What can you recommend to make civility and good manners fashionable?

Father Thomas P. Rausch

Chairman, Department of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

Unfortunately, civility is learned, not innate. We have to work at it. Every choice we make or don't make shapes the kind of person we become--closed, self-centered, thoughtless of others, or open, warm and considerate. Therefore, even little actions are significant. Spiritual teachers often recommend a "consciousness examen" at the end of the day as a way of monitoring our own spiritual growth. We might ask each evening, did I go out of my way for anyone today? Did I comfort the sorrowing or welcome the stranger? Was anyone better for our encounter? Were there any gracious moments? If we can't find any, or simply don't care, then we are part of the problem.

Tom Choi

Pastor, English Ministry, Los Angeles Korean United Methodist Church

Civility is one's responsibility to behave in polite and courteous ways to preserve the harmony of a community. Unfortunately, we have become a culture that overemphasizes individual needs and feelings. A return to civility will require a personal transformation in which each of us decides to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This transformation is best accomplished in religious communities that are based on a loving God, self-sacrificing love and connection to others. These qualities give us the perspective and self-esteem necessary to be civil no matter how we feel or how others treat us. If we can do that, most will eventually do likewise.

Shabbir Mansuri

Founding director, Council on Islamic Education

The Prophet Muhammad said, "Even a smile is charity." Remembering this hadith (tradition) and others like it helps Muslims understand that ultimately all things, even the most mundane, are taken into account by the Creator. The Qur'an re-emphasizes this point: "And whoever shall have done an atom's weight of good behold it, and whoever shall have done an atom's weight of evil shall behold it." Moreover, the concept of ummah, or community, reminds Muslims that extreme individualism undermines the common purpose of society, and that civility and good-neighborliness serve as the means to preserve a common vision and identity. As Americans, we must find ways to reestablish a sense of community and purpose that transcends the "fend for yourself" mentality.

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