Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Civil Dog

Last week, I ran across two articles on the online New York Times. One was an entry to Schott's Vocab and the other was a Well blog entry about how marriages would benefit if people treated their significant others to as much affection and forgiveness as they give their dogs.

Schott's neologism of the day was civilogue, "a civilized dialogue in which those in disagreement refrain from stooping to insults or knee-jerk generalizations." The word comes from a column posted online by a political writer named Jeffry Weiss, who thinks it is time to civilize the rhetoric all along the political spectrum, bringing it back to a more respectful and tolerant discourse. He recommends being polite, being kind, and being considerate when countering the politically incorrect blunders of others.

This is a wonderful idea--in theory. I don't know much about politeness. I'm from New Jersey, from a family with barely concealed working class roots, so I was not reared with much politeness, kindness, or consideration on parade. The few social graces that I have mastered are the product of living for twenty years in the South among kind and considerate people who were taught by grannies in white gloves to sit up straight and say "Thank you, ma'am" and "Yes, please" even when they'd rather not eat another piece of pie. The flaw in the system, though, is that everybody has to participate, or things fall apart. By that I mean, I have found that politeness and kindness do not work when the person you are dealing with—for example, Crazy Guy, or the guy who got in my face and screamed at me until the veins popped on his forehead because Muzzy chased his tiny dog—are not interested in civil dialogue but in venting their rage at a stranger, particularly a small, female one. I know that I provoked Crazy Guy to race after me on his motorcycle because I told him to eff off. ("Young lady, if you ever use language like that with me again, why I'll . . ." hop on my motorbike and call the police on you, apparently.)  Yet, I know that there have been folks at the Park who have tried politeness and reasoning with him to no avail. (I did capitulate to the Screaming Guy. I told him I was sorry and that I respected his feelings, but I had to do so at the top of my lungs, which kind of made it sound hostile, which it kind of was. I have never seen guy since.)

My response to all the hostility that I keep running up against at Dog Park (Rich, don't ever call me a bitch again. No one should have to touch your dog's slimy tennis ball), in the neighborhood, at the grocery store (Please, just run me over, Mr. BMW. I know that your business is so much more important than my safety as a pedestrian), on the road, and even online is simply to be prepared to fight fire with fire. Every potential encounter now is fraught with tension. A neighbor I've never talked to in seven years approaches me while I'm walking Muzzy, and I tense for a rebuke about dog pee on her lawn. Instead, she kindly asks what happened to Roma. I feel relieved. Also like a jerk. But I can't let my guard down. Because the next person I meet may come at me with guns blazing. Poor Muzzy. She is so used to these encounters now that she just sits--politely--and waits for the screaming to stop.

Oops. There's no time to write about the second article. I'll do that another day. Here's my attempt at civility for the day: Thank you for reading, as always. I hope that you have only polite and considerate encounters today.

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