September 27th, 2021


The unlikely restoration of 'civility'

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published Oct. 3, 2014

Bill Maher gets it right evey now and then
Talking about "civility," or what used to be called good manners until good manners disappeared, has become the rage in certain unlikely precincts in America. Talking about civility may be the next Big Thing.

Both Democrats and Republicans have prescribed a dose of civility to restore amiability to Washington, but Harry Reid is nobody's idea of a man a Republican would sit down to supper with without a squad of Marines to guard his back. Nevertheless, some unlikely suspects are trying to light a firecracker in the dark.

The Station, a restaurant in Bernardsville, N.J., is paying people to be nice at the dinner table. The lunch table, too. Customers don't even have to wash their hands first or chew with their mouths closed to collect a 5 percent discount if they just put away their cell phones at the table.

Geraldine Infantolino, manager of The Station, says "what we're trying to do is encourage families to communicate a little bit more. If you can make it through the duration of the meal, we'll give you 5 percent off."

Cell phones have become indispensible, both as a tool for communication, when most people with one growing out of their ears have nothing to say, and as a growing source of public irritation. Who has not had to listen to half of a cell phone conversation three tables over?

"When you walk into a restaurant, that's what everybody is doing," Brian Allen, a diner at The Station, tells the CBS affiliate in New York City. "They're all on their cell phones." Other restaurants, not all of them in New Jersey, are following close behind. Imagine that, Chris Christie's New Jersey leads the way to an etiquette renaissance.

A restaurant in Toronto even offers a $5 rebate for parents with well-behaved children. A something-burger chain in Dallas gives discounts "just for being nice." What this says, says Geraldine Napier-Fitzpatrick, president of the Etiquette School of New York (yes, there really is one), "is that some of us don't know what good manners are these days. We've all become so obsessed with our cell phones and computers that we need a reminder of how to act in public."

Once this renaissance gets moving, who knows where it could lead? Diners at Kasbah Kosher Steak House on Manhattan's Upper West Side get a free dessert if they say grace before they scarf the salad or first course. "The notion of food for the soul really comes out in these types of promotions," says the manager.

But even now lawyers for the ACLU are no doubt preparing a law suit against the Kasbah Kosher Steak House, eager to deprive someone of his right to pray lest it interfere with the greater right of atheists to be obnoxious. A minor-league baseball team in Maryland once admitted anyone to a Sunday afternoon game who could produce a program or other evidence that he had gone to church that morning. The ball club, perhaps eager to seed the stands with well-behaved fans who might buy hot dogs and bellywash through the afternoon, nevertheless raised the ire of the usual unbelievers and had to discontinue the custom. Civility, indeed.

Bill Maher, the television talker who is no friend of the religious faithful — he even made a movie about it — has lately called Muslims to account for their beastly treatment of women. Abuse of women goes beyond bad manners, but we take Bill's point. "We hear a lot about the Republican 'war on women,'" he said the other day, raising the blood pressure of certain of his own secular liberals. "It's not cool that Rush Limbaugh called somebody a slut. Okay. But Saudi women can't vote, or drive, or hold a job or leave the house without a man [as an accessory]. Overwhelming majorities in every Muslim country say a wife is always obliged to obey her husband. That all seems like a bigger issue than evangelical Christian bakeries refusing to make gay wedding cakes."

Uncivil behavior can easily morph into "workplace violence," which is President Obama's description of Islamic terrorism, which he discourages as the description of shootings or beheadings at the office, no matter what the workplace terrorists call their jihad. When Jacob Mugambi Muriithi, 30, threatened to behead a fellow employe at an Oklahoma City nursing home, she asked him why Islamic terrorists want to kill Christians. He answered, "this is just what we do." He tried to convert several employees to Islam and they said no thanks. In Oklahoma, Baptists rule. If you're a Muslim evangelist, you might well think, 'How civil is that'?

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.