Jewish World Review May 3, 2004 / 12 Iyar, 5764

David Grimes

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A new generation of civility | Good evening graduates, parents and debt consolidators.

This is a very special day in your lives. You graduates will be clutching your college degrees and striding confidently out into the world to make your mark, assuming your definition of "making your mark" is landing a job as a pizza deliverer or parking attendant.

You parents will finally be able to convert your child's bedroom into a den or office, after burning all the furniture and spraying the floor and walls with Clorox, of course.

And, lastly, you money managers will finally be able to afford to re-varnish the shuffleboard courts on your yacht and hire a backup sushi chef for your cat.

But my talk today is not about greed. You'll learn about that quickly enough. My talk is about civility, or rather the lack of it in today's society. It is my opinion that America is a coarser place than it was 30 years ago. Drivers yell obscenities and give each other the finger. Store clerks chat with their friends on the phone while customers wait in line. People sneeze in your face and don't even offer to wipe off your glasses.

It is up to you, graduates, to turn this around. As you go through life, you will have numberless opportunities to choose between civility and incivility. It is quite possible that your continued employment and/or health will hinge on your decision. Let's take a brief quiz to see how you'd do.

Let's say you are a waiter in a fancy restaurant and a customer requests that his bouillabaisse be returned to the kitchen because the flavor nuances of the saffron suggest that it was harvested in a month not ending in "R" in a country other than Spain.

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Your correct response to this request would be:

A) "I'm sorry that you are not completely satisfied with your dinner, sir. I'll be more than happy to subtract it from your bill and bring you something else that would be more to your liking." Or:

B) "You pompous phony. You wouldn't know good bouillabaisse from Campbell's clam chowder. Please allow me to correct this situation by dumping the Caesar salad onto your head and bringing you a different dish in which the busboy has concealed the butt of his Marlboro. In conclusion, allow me to point out that your date has the table manners of a hyena."

Or let's say that another driver has cut you off as both of you are pulling into the parking lot of a convenience store. You get out of your car, approach the other driver, and say:

A) "Please accept my profoundest apologies, sir. I was thinking about my poor cancer-ridden mother in the nursing home and my mind must have wandered for a second. Although it does not appear that either of our vehicles is damaged, would you please permit me to write you a check for $1,000 to cover your emotional suffering?" Or:

B) "You know, if you had been paying attention to your driving instead of simultaneously yapping on your cell phone, flossing your teeth and doing your online banking, you might have noticed that you were about to run into the side of my car, possibly causing me to drop my doughnut, razor and newspaper. Are you nuts, or what?"

Clearly, America would be a better place if young people like yourselves could restore civility to our nation.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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