If you’ve been following the news, you know what has been going on out in Fort McMurray, so I ask you to keep all of those people in Alberta in your thoughts and prayers this week…
With Mr. McKinney’s arriving at UCC this summer, I am reminded of the story about the new head of school, who shows up on his very first day and finds on his desk three envelopes, marked 1, 2, and 3, along with a note from the previous head, instructing him to “Open only in case of emergency.” Sure enough, during that first year there was a crisis, and the new principal opened the first envelope and found a note saying, “Blame your predecessor.” He did this, and things got better.
A couple of years later there was another crisis, and when he opened envelope #2, he found a note instructing him to, “Blame the economy.” He did this, and again things improved. Still a few years later there was a third crisis, and when he opened envelope #3, the note simply said, “Prepare 3 envelopes.” I am in the “prepare 3 envelopes” phase of life at UCC, and even as I am starting to see brown boxes in my sleep, I know that, as good as things are here – we are still a work in progress. Let me give you just one example from earlier this year.
I was watching a Prep soccer game last fall, when our team scored a goal to tie a game against Ridley. At that moment one of our players, a young boy who was sitting right in front of me, yelled out, at the top of his lungs, “Ridley’s goalie sucks!”
Now even if I hadn’t been sitting next to a friend, who happens to be a Ridley parent, I would have felt obligated to have a chat with this enthusiastic lad. Later, after a brief conversation, I think he understood that, while it’s perfectly fine to celebrate a good play, it’s never right to ridicule another player or use that particular verb in that particular context. I hope it was “a teachable moment.”
Not all moments turn out so well. For example, a few years ago during a heated lacrosse game against one of our traditional rivals, two players lost their heads for just a moment and started to mix it up out on the field. From out of nowhere, a man bellowed, “Fight. Fight. Hit him!” I realized that the voice was coming from the father of one of the visiting team’s players, and because he was small, I went over to talk with him.
“You’re not really encouraging them, are you?” I asked. I don’t remember his exact response but it was something less than, “Thank you very much, kind sir, for bringing this momentary lapse in civility to my attention. In the future I shall strive to model good sportsmanship in all I say and in all I do in the spirit of the Positive Coaching Alliance.”
I do remember that he asked me who I was, and after I identified myself, I asked him for his name, something he refused to give. It’s never a good scene when you’re with someone who won’t own up to his own identity. By this point, there were lots of other parents staring at us, and I quickly realized how perfectly ridiculous we both looked, as we continued a somewhat heated public debate on the importance of decorum.
The soccer lad who quickly learned his lesson and the lacrosse dad who didn’t are just two of the many instances of incivility that are all around us these days. I was reminded of this last Saturday night, when Dwayne Wade continue to shoot jumpers – even during the playing of the Canadian National Anthem. What made it worse was that afterwards, instead of saying, “I was wrong. It wasn’t my intention to show a lack of respect, and I apologize” Wade dug himself a deeper hole by saying something to the effect that, “Anyone who knows D. Wade knows he wouldn’t disrespect another country.” Actually Dwayne, you did. And using the third person to talk about yourself doesn’t suggest a sense of humble contrition.
By the way, if the situation were reversed, if a Canadian player continued to shoot around during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, my American cousins would go ape nuts. That player might need protective services for a while, because people would be deeply disturbed. When I mentioned this to Mr. Ferley this morning, he disagreed. He thought the Canadian organist might instinctively apologize for starting before the player had completed his workout. “Sorry!”
By contrast to this, the mantra of one of our brother schools, Royal St. George’s, is “Manners maketh the man.” While the term “maketh,” is not a word you come across all that often this millennium, I have to applaud the Georgian insight. Manners actually are important because they are a part of a larger cultural code, a code that goes to the very heart of what it means to be civilized. It goes to the heart of who we are or at least who we ought to be.
Civility is not about curling your pinkie when you hold a teacup; it’s not about knowing how to show courtesy before the Queen. It is about knowing how to behave – no matter where you are, no matter whom you are with. And it’s about always giving the other guy the benefit of the doubt. Civility is holding your tongue when someone cuts you off, and your first impulse is to use terminology that won’t appear on the SAT. It’s about cheering for your own team, without demeaning the opposition. And it’s about helping the other guy up after a tough play, no matter the colour of his jersey.
None of this is terribly new, but as we watch with dismay as the American presidential campaign starts to resemble something out of the depths of UFC (with apologies to Conor McGregor!), it’s important to remember these truths because we need to consciously make them our habits. Aristotle pointed out that these habits, if consciously cultivated, will shape and define our character. And character is, as Robert Coles points out, “Doing the right thing – even when nobody is looking.” Even during a Prep soccer match on an otherwise peaceful Saturday morning, and even during the singing of National Anthem on a muggy night in Miami.