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Book Club Kits: Choosing Civility

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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P.M. Forni

Dr. P.M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, co-founded the Johns Hopkins Civility Project in 1997. An aggregation of academic and community outreach activities, the JHCP aimed at assessing the significance of civility, manners and politeness in contemporary society. The JHCP has been reconstituted as The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins, which Dr. Forni now directs. 

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Book Summary

Most people would agree that thoughtful behavior and common decency are in short supply, or simply forgotten in hurried lives of emails, cellphones, and multi-tasking. In Choosing Civility, P. M. Forni identifies the twenty-five rules that are most essential in connecting effectively and happily with others. In clear, witty, and, well...civilized language, Forni covers topics that include: 

* Think Twice Before Asking Favors
* Give Constructive Criticism
* Refrain from Idle Complaints
* Respect Others' Opinions
* Don't Shift Responsibility and Blame
* Care for Your Guests 
* Accept and Give Praise

Finally, Forni provides examples of how to put each rule into practice and so make life-and the lives of others-more enjoyable, companionable, and rewarding.

Choosing Civility is a simple, practical, perfectly measured, and quietly magical handbook on the lost art of civility and compassion.

Discussion Questions

1)  Dr. Forni writes, “Our contentment and happiness are a matter of personal attitude.” Do you agree? Does your attitude affect the people around you?

2)  Dr. Forni writes, “Our challenge is to pursue relationships while keeping at a minimum the hurt that they entail. How can we do that?”

3)  “Restraint is the art of feeling good later.”  Think about things you’ve done that feel good immediately. Think about things you’ve done that feel good later. What do these things have in common? What separates them?

4)  What does it mean to go “one step beyond the golden rule”?

5)  We often ask, "What’s in it for me?"  Can you think of a time when your life has been improved by a personal relationship?

6)  What do all of these--personal attitute, kindness, restraint, the golden rule, and relationships--have to do with Civility?

Author Talk About Civility

The traditional rules of manners, civility and politeness are a time-proven, very effective code of relational skills. With my audiences I re-discover and adapt this precious resource to today’s needs. A cornerstone of my talks is that being civil is both the decent thing to do and the expedient one. Civility and good manners are areas of human behavior where altruism and self-interest merge. Social skills are a precious asset: They allow us to enjoy harmonious social interactions as they strengthen social bonds. Strong social bonds are necessary for the building and maintenance of social support and also crucial to success at work. Building upon the notion that life is an experience in relating and connecting, my talks aim at improving the quality of both personal and professional lives.

My nine basic points:

1 A definition of civility and the three major arguments for choosing to be civil
2 Incivility and its costs, civility and its rewards
3 The four major causes of incivility
4 How to be at our best with others
5 The physiology of conflictual and harmonious encounters
6 Fostering a culture of civility in the workplace
7 The two ways to be successful in life
8 Strong, smart and nice
9 The future of empathy and relational skills

Individual points receive more or less emphasis according to specific audience needs. In general, however, my focus is on the connections among civility, ethics and quality of life. I believe that the quality of our lives depends to a large extent upon the quality of our relationships. Since our relational skills improve our relationships, they are quality-of-life determinants. Better relationships mean lower levels of stress, hence relational skills help us achieve mental and physical health. How to go about improving relationships through relational skills is a core concern of mine.