Image Source: americanbar.org
Image Source: americanbar.org

We can learn one lesson or two from the controversy that continues to plague FILAMCCO (Filipino American Community Council).

One lesson is about the virtue of civility which, according to my dictionary (it is a cheap one, though), is the act of showing regard for others by being polite, “like the civility you show in speaking to someone who has hurt your feelings.”

Civility also means “speech or behavior that is a sign of good breeding.” The sample sentence: “He treated people from all walks of life with the same unfailing civility.”

It seemed that we were carried away by the heat generated by the spirited exchange of emails on the FILAMCCO controversy, and as a result we unwittingly forgot this age-old virtue – “unwittingly” because Filipinos, by their very nature and/or culture, are inherently civil, polite and courteous. And I believe that all those involved in the controversy did not have any intention to hurt the feelings of anybody.

Had the protagonists been civil in their words, the controversy would not have deteriorated to a gutter-level quarrel, the kind of quarrel engaged in by heavily tattooed toughies and hoodlums who terrorize the slum areas. 

It was sad and utterly disappointing to read emails spiked with words and phrases which were combative, divisive, accusatory and incendiary. These foul words and phrases used in the context of the acrimonious controversy had run roughshod over the sense and sensibilities of those at the receiving end.

The use of such words is unbecoming of professionals whom less fortunate people look up to as paragon of good breeding and fine education. (By the way, the Spanish translation of civility is “educado.”)

The virtue of civility requires as to be polite and courteous even to those who hurt our feelings or bruised our pride.   

Sometimes, controversies like the one hounding FILAMCCO are revealing. These reveal the beastial side of our nature, the side that makes men “capable of the greatest evil.”

As civil, educated people, we should resist by all means the tendency to backslide to our dark side. Otherwise, we are no better than some of our brothers and sisters at the slum areas in Tondo whose misfortune can be traced to lack of good breeding,  good parents and good education.

On civility, Samuel Johnson has this nugget of wisdom: “When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness and decency.”    

By being civil in our language, we could still effectively argue our case – that is if we have a valid reason. The use of combative, offensive words does not validate or bolster our argument; instead it shows the bankruptcy of our position.

The same is true with the use of a loud voice during a debate. Loud voice is employed by people who want to bamboozle, if not to intimidate, their opponents. We do not resort to this underhanded tactic if we have substance in our argument.

When it comes to civility, the English people can serve as our models. Inside they might be seething in anger, but you would not be able to detect their pent-up fury because they could still use words which are most civil and polite. Jane Austen’s books “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibilities” demonstrate civility at its highest level.

I look forward to the day when Filipinos in Michigan are as civil as the English people in words and actions.

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