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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University June 23, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 38
Wrestling With Rudeness: Advice for Addressing Incivility

Prof's book helps readers become someone 'people are less likely to be rude to'

By Amy Lunday

Rude behavior can make you want to scream, but confronting a rude person can make you squirm. Given the choice between standing up to a bully and seething in silence, many people pick the latter, at a loss for how to deal with a rude person without intensifying an emotionally charged situation.

Johns Hopkins' resident civility maven, P.M. Forni, takes the guesswork out of defusing more than a hundred different everyday hackle-raising scenarios in his new book, The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude, published this month by St. Martin's Press. The follow-up to his popular 2002 field guide, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct, the book is both an essay on rudeness and a self-defense manual.

A crucial question addressed by Forni: How can one become the kind of person people are less likely to be rude to? His answer: If we are consistently considerate, even in the face of rudeness, others will often match our behavior. That, he says, is the civility solution.

"Although we cannot hope to ban rudeness from our lives altogether, we can limit both its occurrences and its impact," said Forni, a professor of Italian literature in the Krieger School's Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures and director of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins, who has worked for more than a decade to illustrate the connections among civility, ethics and quality of life. "When we handle it well," he said, "we feel good about ourselves and reap other substantial benefits, such as healing wounded relationships. Being prepared is half the solution to any problem."

In The Civility Solution, Forni prepares his readers to handle real-life scenarios in a number of categories:

  • The Near and Not So Dear: Spouses, Family and Friends

  • The Neighbors — Noisy, Nosy and Nice

  • Workplace Woes

  • On the Road, In the Air and Aboard the Train

  • The World of Service

  • Digital Communication
  • Forni does not advocate angry confrontations. Rather he says he believes in speaking up in defense of common decency and going out on a limb to let someone know you've been hurt rather than perpetuating the cycle of incivility.

    "We teach others how to treat us by how much we are willing to endure from them," Forni said. "It is better not to endure even micro-indignities if they are really bothering you. Find the strength of character to confront that person in an assertive, nonaggressive way and say, 'This is how I feel when you say that, when you do that. I really wish you didn't.' If you keep everything bottled inside, that person will do it again."

    An example of the user-friendly advice in The Civility Solution for dealing with such sticky situations is "The SIR Sequence," Forni's shorthand for "state, inform and request." Namely: State the facts. Inform the other person of the impact he or she has had on you. And request that the hurtful behavior not be repeated.

    "Do so politely, firmly and unapologetically," Forni said. "And do it sooner rather than later. You will be more effective and won't have to dread doing it in the future."

    Forni has inspired several community-based initiatives across the country to promote civility, including in Maryland, where Howard County's Choose Civility initiative has received international media coverage.


    Related Web sites:

    P.M. Forni's Civility Web site
    Q&A with P.M. Forni
    Choose Civility in Howard County


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