How would I know if my book, Restoring Civility, improve your life? Because, doing the research and writing it changed mine!

I know, it sounds arrogant, but I don’t think most people have thought through all the ramifications of civility. My humble confession? I never thought through all the causative of all the bad behavior in our society these days.

I read an article in Time magazine, and a phrase caught my attention: “We live in a pissed-off society.” It’s true, even for me. Yeah, I’m somewhat angry at the constant news reports. To be honest, I’m also somewhat discouraged…maybe even more than angry.

Newscasts, almost every week, have reports of cop killings, vicious division among national leaders in Washington, skyrocketing suicides, an epidemic of drug abuse. What are we doing? Where are we going? What is the future?

In my research, I began focus groups with people old enough to have young grandchildren. I asked them to pick a number that represents their level of optimism: 1 being low and 10 being high. When I compiled and averaged, it was around six or seven.

Then I asked them to pick a number representing their optimism of the life of their grandchildren when they grow up. The numbers came in at three or four. Their historical view is that the quality of life is declining.

Then I asked them to think about why they chose the numbers they picked for their adult grandchildren. Their responses were not about wealth issues or threat of war from a foreign enemy. They said things like, “I’m worried that they may get shot in grade school;” “I’m concerned they will die of drug overdoses;” “I wonder if they might die in a car accident that is caused by one of those maniacs who drive way above the speed limit.”

So what is the issue behind the issues? At a causative level, what is driving this depressed view of the future? Well, you won’t hear about it on most newscasts or read about it in most newspaper articles. Most reports cover the results not the causes.

As I researched for writing Restoring Civility, my focus was on “What are the issues behind the issues? How do we drill down to bedrock causes?” We are bombarded every day with the symptoms but what are the causative issues? So I began to ask, “What can we learn from the history of nations?” I wondered, “What would God have to say?”

My conclusions? Civilization is a cycle, turned by one person at a time, one day at a time. Some people—for whatever reason—act uncivilized. Their behavior makes the news. That fuels outrage in many, but encourages bad behavior in others. The cycle picks up momentum as the majority fails to focus on the cause. Most energy goes toward battling the symptoms. Not many are asking the civility questions.

These questions are about cultural influence. Culture drives behavior. Cultural elements are subconscious, below the surface. But they drive behavior! What are they? They include 1) values; 2) beliefs; 3) attitudes; 4) priorities; and 5) worldviews. I addressed these basic elements in my previous book, Who Broke My Church? (2017).

My quest continued with Restoring Civility. The cycle of civilization subtly slides from civilized toward uncivilized culture. The word “civility” means “respect.” When respect dwindles, people drift. Kindness, respect for laws, respect for challenges, respect for life—all of it slowly deteriorates. Not with everyone, but with some, who influence others and discourage the rest.

My journey in the process of writing Restoring Civility changed my life—it improved my respect meter. I shared just three examples. There are more, and these might not be yours. But you will understand: civility—respect—impacts life, impacts the world.

#1: I admit it. I used to set my cruise control 2-3 miles per hour above the speed limit. My rationale? Life is hectic, time is precious, you can cheat a little, and not get a ticket…and, of course, many other drivers are doing it. However, the civility issue changed my behavior. It’s not ultimately about laws. It’s about the sanctity of life—not just mine, but of that lady in the car ahead of me…and her little kids. So how do I drive now? Yeah, go ahead, pass me. I am not focused on you as a bad person. I’m showing respect for life—mine and yours. Oh, and I never look for a police car on the side of the road trying to pick me up on radar. I’m more focused on driving.

#2: I’ve always respected police officers. I can’t even fathom how someone can walk into a police station or restaurant and shoot an officer. Yeah… “good for me,” right? No. I’ve discovered civility is more. It is not neutral. It is proactive. So what changed? Well, whenever I see an officer, I walk up and say, “Thank you for your service. I pray you stay safe.” Most often, they say, “Thanks, I appreciate that.” I suppose that encourages them. But what’s more interesting? It does something for me. I feel like I’m contributing to a more civilized society. I know it’s just a little. But it’s a beginning. It helps me to know I am just a little part of the solution. It has to start somewhere!

#3: I used to grumble all the way through security at the airport, and I travel a lot! While writing Restoring Civility, I thought I would try telling every security officer I encounter, “Thanks for keeping us safe.” I don’t know what it does for them, but I have to admit, my whole attitude is so much better. It changed me!

This is not all about gimmicks or programs. It’s about an intentional approach that fosters respect in a world that desperately needs it. It’s not rocket science. It’s not dramatic. It’s incremental: in me, for me, in you, in others. Respect is contagious!