The Young Foundation, a London-based think tank, published a new report yesterday, Charm Offensive: Cultivating Civility in 21st Century Britain (pdf), in which it examined the issue of civility in the United Kingdom. The report defines civility as “covering the codes of behaviour that allow us to share public spaces and public services.”
Select statements from the report include:
- Although subjectively civility is perceived to be deteriorating there is no objective evidence for this. By some standards behaviour is better than a generation or two ago, with much less casual violence or racism. But in other respects life does appear to be less civil.
- Civility is in many ways a benchmark, setting the standard for what most people see as a decent way to deal with others….Wherever they lived, most people agreed that civility is central to shaping life; many felt it was the single most important contributor to their quality of life.
- While people are generally positive about their personal experiences and their neighbourhoods, in general views tend to be far more negative at a more generic or abstract level.
- Many of the people we spoke to identified busy lives as one of the issues driving down standards because civility requires sacrifices of time…. Aspects of civility that require thoughtfulness, will inevitably suffer.
- Areas that have higher numbers of people leaving than entering are more likely to suffer from high levels of perceived anti-social behaviour…. A sense of local stewardship will be harder to engender in areas experiencing a high turnover of people.
Of particular interest to readers of this blog might be the report’s comments about online behavior:
- The anonymity offered by the internet and social networking has broadened the space for uncivil behaviour, including cyber-bullying. Many people feel that our online lives are getting in the way of sociability, particularly among young people.
- Many of those we spoke to felt that technological development was so fast that it has outstripped our ability to develop codes of behaviour that would allow us to engage with it with sensitivity to others.
The report discusses how civility can be increased, suggesting empathy training as a core component.
Effective empathy training programmes help people accurately identify their own feelings in order to determine the emotional state of another person. In other words, they help people learn to understand themselves better in order to develop awareness of how they affect others and, as a result, allow them to regulate their own behaviour accordingly.
The authors argue that promoting civility requires a combination of encouraging positive behavior as well as punishing transgressions.
The report also notes the importance of social network theory, which show that positive acts of kindness or civility can spread from one person to another (for further reading see the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives) .