Good Manners and the Sane Life
P.M. Forni hopes his new book, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct (St. Martin's Press, March 2002), will help readers rediscover time-honored practices that are often overlooked in our fast-paced and stressful lives. Far from being just a matter of good form, social skills are a necessary tool to achieve a sane and serene life, Forni says.
With a mass-market audience in mind, Forni compares Choosing Civility to the person who ran along next to you while you learned to ride a bicycle -- an invisible, steadying hand to help readers "practice these skills until they become second nature." The exercise may be coming just in time. A survey in the April 2002 Good Housekeeping found that 79 percent of readers feel people are ruder to each other now than just 10 years ago; 42 percent say they encounter rude behavior every day.
"In order to live a sane and serene life, we need good relationships. We need a network of social support," says Forni (pictured at left) , a professor of Italian literature at The Johns Hopkins University and co- founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project. "In order to gain and maintain social support, we need social skills. The rules of civility and manners give us the social skills that allow us to live well among others."
Piqued in the 1990s by Americans' renewed interest in civility, Forni has devoted several years to the academic study of thoughtful behavior. Forni was co-director of an international symposium, "Reassessing Civility: Forms and Values at the End of the Century," at Johns Hopkins in March 1998. He has served as an expert source for many news outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and the British Broadcasting Corp.
The $20, 196-page hardbound book includes a list of 25 rules that encourage the reader to focus on basic considerate behavior.
Take Rule No. 4: Listen.
"To listen to one another is one of the first duties that we owe to the people who are around us. When we listen, it means that we are paying attention," Forni says. "It's impossible to be considerate without paying attention."
And then there is Rule No. 6: Speak Kindly.
"We are uncivil when we forget the fragility of others, when we forget that the people with whom we are interacting are flesh and blood people who are easy to bruise, just the way we are," Forni says.
All the other 24 rules aside, Forni says it's important not to lose sight of your own feelings, also known as Rule No. 17: Assert Yourself.
"I certainly didn't want to give the impression that being civil means being extremely meek and self-effacing," Forni says. "Expressing yourself, expressing your feelings, is part of the mental and emotional tool kit of the civil person."
As you might expect, Professor Forni is charming and wonderful to talk with, and he can address a broad range of issues connected to civility for any story on the subject. To speak with P.M. Forni or to receive a review copy of Choosing Civility, contact Amy Cowles at 410-516- 7800. Forni's Web site is www.jhu.edu/civility/. Video and audio recordings featuring P.M. Forni are available online at www.jhu.edu/news_info/news/audio-video/forni.html.
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