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Rude Awakenings: Practicing Civility in Our Congregations

By Mark Bernstein

Angry Man pointing finger

Is rudeness a quality of Unitarian Universalism? How else to explain the lack of hospitality exhibited by many congregations toward unbidden guests? This workshop will explore the prevalence of rudeness in our society, how it is seeping through the walls of our congregations, and what we can do about it.


MARK BERNSTEIN: Hello everyone. It's 4 o'clock. And we're going to start on time because it would be rude not to.


It doesn't mean we're going to end early, though. Don't get your hopes up. Thank you all for being here. Thank you for choosing this workshop. There are a lot of really good choices, and I'm really thrilled that you chose this one. It is not true, however, as posted on the UU app that I am giving $10 to every person who attends this workshop.

So Dino, sit down. Don't you leave. My name is Mark Bernstein. I'm the Central East Regional Group growth consultant of the Unitarian Universalist Association of the United States of America of the planet Earth. I live in the Philadelphia area. My home congregation is the UU Church of Delaware County in Media, Pennsylvania.

Yay. And I'm really happy to be here with you this afternoon. This session is being recorded by the UUA, and it's being videotaped by Central East Region. So you will have the opportunity, if you are so moved, to see this and here this subsequent to GA.

It will be up on the definitely on the CERG website at within a month or so of General Assembly. So it is available for you, and if you don't see it, you can contact me. I have some business cards. I'll get some more out. But my email address is mbernstein—B-E-R-N-S-T-E-I-N—

So you don't have to take copious notes. If what we talk about resonates with you, you might want to note that. What things are you going to bring back to your congregation? And hopefully there will be enough things that you can take back that will justify your spending this hour and 15 minutes with me.

One of the reasons that we're videotaping it is so that if this does resonate with you, you can show this at your congregation and then have conversations. And that's how you begin to change the culture. And that's what I'm hoping you'll be inspired to do.

So let me begin. So in the town that I live in, Springfield, Pennsylvania, Delaware County—Springfield Delaware County not Springfield Montgomery County—there is a traffic signal. Now, the crosswalk, the white lines across the street have always been there. But the town fathers realized that nobody was stopping.

And so they installed one of those signs that you see in the middle there that says, yield to pedestrians. They had to put several signs there because people were running over the signs with their cars. People still weren't stopping. So then they installed the double blinking light that you see above the street with another sign with a person walking.

And people still did not stop. I frequent that street a lot. It's right in front of the Rite Aid pharmacy. You can't miss it. When I'm walking my dog or going to the local Wawa to get something to eat, and I'm amazed at how motorists just keep coming by despite all of those signs telling them to yield to pedestrians.

So I decided one day to do a social science experiment. I stood on the side of the road. I had one foot in the street so that cars knew that I wanted to cross. And I counted the number of cars that passed by before the first one stopped. And I counted 32 cars that went by me until the first one stopped.

That was phase one. Phase two I brought my dog to the crosswalk, and I stood there. We were out a little bit in the street so people knew that I wanted to cross with my dog. And I waited, and I counted the number of cars that went by. And I counted 28 cars that went by—little bit of progress.

But I was very surprised because my dog is the cutest creature in the world. That's Lenny. And how could 28 people pass by this beautiful creature? I was just absolutely puzzled. But we were making some progress. That was phase two.

Phase three, I borrowed a baby from my next door neighbor. I didn't have one of my own. And I stood at the crosswalk, one foot in the street, holding the baby. And I counted the number of cars that went by. Amazingly, a total of 36 cars went by with me holding the baby, more than the number of cars that passed when it was just me.

And I couldn't figure it out, and I pored over the data, and I looked at my hypothesis, and I studied it and studied it. And it finally occurred to me the reason was it was an ugly baby. It's amazing what you learn when you do social science experiments. So phase four, the final phase, I laid the baby in the middle of the intersection.

I'm sorry. Am I being rude? It was an ugly baby, really. And what I found was only four cars drove by before the first one stopped. But actually two of them saw the baby and actually swerved to hit it. Did I mention it was an ugly baby?

So after I got out of prison for endangering a minor, I analyzed the results. And this is what I determined. The motorists who passed that intersection in Springfield Delaware County, not Montgomery County, are not paying attention. They are so focused on getting where they want to go that they can't see what's right in front of them, or near them, or around them.

Or they are intent on putting their own needs ahead of the needs of others. Or they're too busy to stop. They're in a hurry to do what they think they need to do. Or they refuse to empathize with me and my dog and the ugly baby, and so they discount our situation and our need to get across the street.

Whatever the reason, I believe it is representative of the rude society that we have become, a society that prides individuality over community, our own concerns over that of the collective. So this afternoon, I want to talk with you about the incivility of our culture and how that is seeping through the walls of our congregations, thus challenging the principles of our faith and the very foundation upon which Unitarian Universalism stands.

In other words, it's a comedy. So we see incivility all around us, don't we? The animal who cuts in front of us when we're in line, the motorist who won't let us merge, the person talking loudly on their cell phone in public, nasty, insulting, degrading comments on Twitter and Facebook, politicians showing disregard for each other.

Philosopher Emrys Westacott wrote, precisely because rudeness is quite common, it is not a trivial issue. Indeed, in our day-to-day lives, it is possibly responsible for more pain than any other mortal failing. We're talking about some pretty serious stuff.

So there was a 2013 study entitled Civility in America conducted by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate in partnership with KRC Research. And they concluded that America has a civility problem and that no area of American society is untouched. Here are some of their findings.

Americans encounter incivility an average of 17.1 times a week or 2.4 times a day. Now, by incivility, they meant general rudeness, disrespect, bullying, issues of conflict. Those were the definitions of incivility in this study. They found that 50% of those surveyed have ended a friendship because another person was uncivil.

43% expect to experience incivility in the next 24 hours. This is the good news, by the way. 37% of those surveyed have experienced incivility at work, and 26% have quit a job because the workplace was uncivil. 24% have personally experienced cyberbullying, and that's three times as much since the last survey in 2011.

And 43% say they worry a great deal about cyberbullying. And 19% of parents surveyed have transferred their child to a different school because of incivility in the current educational placement. This is not a minor issue.

More findings, 95% of those surveyed believe we have a civility problem in America. 81% think uncivil behavior is leading to an increase in violence in our society. 70% think the internet encourages uncivil behavior, and 34% specifically blame Twitter. And 70% think that incivility has risen to crisis levels.

These are pretty startling statistics, yes? When asked to define civility in their own words, the survey respondents most frequently answered with variations of treating others with respect. Treating others with respect, now what does that remind you of?

So what are some of the reasons that account for this increase of rudeness in society? You're probably asking yourselves that right now. Am I correct? Go ahead and ask yourself. I'll wait. Well, here are a few based on what I've been able to figure out or find out from other sources.

Number one, we are too busy, or we think we're too busy to pay attention to others, to notice others, to look out for the needs of others. Richard Layard, author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, thinks that our problem today is a lack of common feeling between people, the notion that life is a competitive struggle.

Another reason I think is that we are generally anonymous. We don't interact with each other or know each other very well. We're talking general society here, our general culture. We don't sit out on the front porch. I think maybe people in Kentucky do. I'm not sure. But I know in the Philadelphia area we don't.

We don't know our neighbors. We don't feel a connection to the surrounding community. Stephen Carter wrote, "A big part of our incivility crisis stems from the fact that we do not know each other or even want to try." By the way, don't come up afterwards to me. I don't really want to know you.

"And not knowing each other, we seem to think that how we treat each other doesn't matter." How we treat each other doesn't matter. And Lynne Truss, author of the book Talk to the Hand, points out that we adhere to the idea that once you know someone, you can respect them. Once you know someone, you can respect them.

But it reinforces the corollary that if you don't know someone, you don't have to have any time for them. Here are some other reasons why I think incivility has taken hold of our society, the erosion of the principle of authority from politicians to teachers to parents to what we see in the media.

In the Civility in America study that I cited a few minutes ago, those surveyed considered government to be the most uncivil aspect of American life. This is not a surprise. It received a 69% rating. It was the highest rated cause of incivility in this survey. 63% of those surveyed found the media to be uncivil, and 56% cited schools as uncivil.

We have become by many accounts a self-absorbed and selfish society where our needs take precedence. The rise in social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, has fostered this movement. We take selfies. We take pictures of what we're having for dinner. We advance our own agendas, and we broadcast it for the world to see and read.

Jeanne Twenge, who wrote a book called Generation Me, which she defined as those born in the '70s '80s or '90s, writes that, quote, "Young Americans have grown up believing it's more important to do your own thing than conform to the group. Unfortunately," she writes, "that also means people of this generation are more likely to be inconsiderate of other people."

Now, Twenge wrote this in 2005, so those young Americans she was talking about are now young adult Americans. Am I lifting your mood? Am I—Those of you that were with me last year expected this to be a real funny presentation. I'll get to that.

So the question you might be wondering is, so what? So why is civility in our society important? Beyond the obvious—the need for safety and security—uncivil environments threaten our social structure and need to be interdependent with each other. The sociologist Erving Goffman speaks of what he calls supportive interchanges.

Supportive interchanges, these are interpersonal rituals that human beings employ in their face-to-face encounters and contacts. So examples include gestures of recognition, greeting ceremonies, inquiries to one's health, the kinds of things that we tend to ask each other as a way of connecting.

These supportive interchanges, Goffman says, serve to open access to each other, link people together in given ways, maintain or reestablish contact with one another, and place people in proper position to each other. In an uncivil environment, then, supportive interchanges do not occur, and people remain disconnected, uncertain, and closed to the possibilities that each of us has for each other.

In his book, The Fall of Public Man, Richard Sennett wrote. "We can't relate to each other as a polity until we rediscover the value of bands of association and mutual commitment between people who are not joined by ties of family or intimate association."

And if we need another reason to promote civility in our world, we simply need to heed the words of Henry James, who wrote, "Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind."

How simple this is. And you're all thinking, I wasted my time coming. All I have to do is be kind. OK so far? You with me? OK. So having skewered society for its general rudeness to all mankind, we now turn our lonely eyes to our congregations. What is the state of civility in our Unitarian Universalist churches, societies, fellowships?

If our spiritual communities are microcosms of the larger community, it stands to reason that rudeness and incivility has crept into our beds as well. So let me begin this part of the presentation with a true and painful story that I experienced a couple of years ago.

This is a true story. You have to take my word for it. There's no way that you can verify whether I'm telling you the truth or not. You just have to trust me. I was invited by a minister in a large congregation who had recently started there and kind of had a feeling that the congregation wasn't being as welcoming as it should be.

So she asked me if I would come anonymously and write a no holds barred report—those were her words—on what I experienced. And I said, sure. I'm happy to. Because I had never seen her preach. Even though I knew her for a long time, but I'd never heard her preach, and I'd never been to that congregation.

So I walked in. I came to the second service. And I got there about 15, 20 minutes early, and it was really crowded in the foyer. But the greeters saw me, and they welcomed me over, and I signed a guest book. And they were very nice to me, and I asked where the bathroom was, and they told me.

So then I headed out going to the bathroom. And then from there, I wanted to pass as many people in the congregation as I could before the service started. So I'm walking down the hallway, and I went to the room where they serve coffee. I didn't want coffee yet. I wasn't going to have it until the second service.

But I wanted to pass as many people as I could. So I went around the perimeter of the room, and then I headed back up the hallway. I was walking for maybe five minutes or so, five, seven minutes. Not one person said hello to me. I don't even recall one person smiling at me.

Now, I didn't look away. I made eye contact. I purposely looked at people as I was—maybe I looked kind of weird. But I'm looking at people. I'm making eye contact with them. If they did notice me, they looked away real quickly. And I passed a lot of people. These were people that had gone to the first service and were getting coffee in that.

So then I went into the sanctuary, and there was still a few minutes before the service was going to start. So I stood in the back of the sanctuary, and I let more people come by. And I made eye contact with them. Not one of them acknowledged me.

I finally decide I'd better sit down, so I sat down about halfway on the right hand side, two or three chairs in. A few moments later, a member of the congregation came and sat on the row in front of me. She turned around and said to me, are you a visitor? I said, yes. She said, welcome.

I said, it's too late. No I didn't really say that. I didn't really say that. We chatted for a little bit, and then the service started. It was a lovely service. The service ended. I went up to the minister, thanked her for the service. And then I headed back down the hall, this time with intent to get coffee.

Again I passed people. Nobody acknowledged me. I walked into the coffee room. Now, I've been around the block a few times. I've been doing this for a long time. I knew to go to the yellow mugs. So I grab the yellow mug. No one told me to take the yellow mugs. I just knew to do that.

So I grabbed a yellow mug, filled it with coffee, grabbed a cookie so I'd have something to do, and I went over to a corner of the room. Now, I wasn't hiding behind anything. I really wasn't. But I wanted to be separated from the rest of the group so people could see that I wasn't being engaged in conversation.

And I stood there, and I stood there, and I stood there, and nobody came over. This time people looked over, but not one person came over. So I raised my mug higher. It's yellow. Not one person came over. I stood there nibbling on my cookie and drinking my coffee.

My happy yellow mug turned to one of despair. I've got to be honest with you. Finally even I had enough. And so I finished my coffee and put my mug away and headed back up the hallway, looking for the minister and asking if I could hide in her office until our meeting. We were going to meet later with members of the board.

I knew in that moment that if I had been a real visitor, there is no way in the world that I would have gone back into that congregation. I felt like the invisible man. Lynne Truss said that, "The most extreme form of non-deference is to be treated as actually absent or invisible."

It was a demoralizing experience. Now, some of you are nodding your heads, and you may want to come up afterwards and tell me about an experience that you had when you visited another congregation. Because it always happens. What I'd like to challenge you is to consider that there might be someone who comes up and will tell me that that's the experience they had in your congregation.

We are not as welcoming as we think we are, and we're certainly not as welcoming as we need to be. One more really quick story. I was at another congregation. This was a smaller one. And I got there early, and I went in and sat down in the sanctuary.

And a couple came behind me and sat behind me, and I actually knew one of the people. So I turned around. I turned around. They didn't tap on the shoulder and say, hey, hi. How are you doing? I turned around, and we talked for a little bit. Maybe it's me.

And then a few minutes, so then I turned back and I'm waiting. And then a few minutes later, another couple came in the row in front of me and greeted the people behind me. How you doing? I didn't see you at the picnic.

So I'm sitting there looking up at them, making eye contact. Not once did they drop their eyes and look at me. I was right there. I was staring at them the whole time. Not once did either of them drop their eyes and look at me and nod and say hello. It was like they were having a conversation over the back fence, and I was the back fence.

These are really true stories. I get really defensive and stuff. I get my feelings hurt. But I was really trying not to fall into that mode. These were really true stories. But incivility in our congregations goes beyond our reluctance to welcome the stranger. It's easy to criticize that.

It's also reflected in our unwillingness, our resistance to thank or acknowledge the efforts of our fellow congregants, to engage in civil and respectful conversations, to welcome dissent as a natural and necessary component of communal life, to trust our leaders and support their efforts, to deal openly and honestly directly with those with whom we have issues rather than going around them or above them or sometimes through them, metaphorically speaking.

So this incivility is not just about not welcoming the stranger. It's the way in which we also tend to be with ourselves, incivility seeping through the walls of our congregations. And here's the really fascinating thing to me about this whole issue. The ability to eliminate rudeness and incivility in our congregations lies exclusively and totally in the hands of the members of the congregation.

There is no outside force that we can impose that will require members to be civil toward one another. The power comes from us, and it is contained in the promises that we make to each other. I'm not telling you anything you don't know.

So meet John Fletcher Moulton. The guy doesn't look like he'd be a lot of fun at a cocktail party, but he's a pretty fascinating guy. After a brilliant mathematical career at Cambridge, Lord Moulton became a London barrister specializing in patent law. He was also a scientist and was awarded the French Legion of Honour for his work in establishing international units for measuring electricity.

That has nothing to do with what I want to talk about related to Lord Moulton, but I thought that was interesting. Here's what he contributed that I really think speaks to us and this topic. He talked about three domains of behavior. The first is the domain of law, where our actions are prescribed by laws binding upon us which must be obeyed.

You exceed the speed limit and you get caught, you get a speeding ticket. You commit a crime and you get caught, you serve hopefully the appropriate punishment. It's the law. We have no choice.

On the other end of the spectrum is what he called the domain of free choice, which includes all those actions as to which we claim and enjoy complete freedom. Now, we could debate whether or not we really do have free will, but that's the workshop following this one at 5:30.

And then there's the middle domain, and this concept just fascinates me. It's what he calls the domain of obedience to the unenforceable. Obedience to the unenforceable in which our actions are not determined by law but in which we are not free to behave in any way we choose. We are obedient to that which is inherently unenforceable.

It's covenant. It's the Cambridge platform. It's the foundation upon which our Unitarian Universalist faith rests. So in this middle domain, the individual is the enforcer of the law upon themselves. Moulton called the behavior of those in this middle domain manners.

Manners, whether through a sense of moral duty, social responsibility, civil pride, it covers all cases of doing right where there is no one to make you do it but yourself. Gil Rendle defined the concept of obedience to the unenforceable as that area of our lives of faith in which we submit to certain ways of living because we hold membership in a faith community that rests on beliefs and values that prescribe such behaviors.

It's the covenant. It's the right relations, the promises that we make to each other. So if I'm riding, for example, if I'm riding on a bus and I take the last seat, and at the next stop an elderly woman boards, there is no law that says that I have to give up my seat, nor am I necessarily comfortable exercising my right to free choice to not give up my seat.

Instead, I am compelled—I am compelled. I can't speak for you—to give up my seat because it is consistent with my sense of civic responsibility, and I think it's the right thing to do. And that's the only thing that's compelling me to behave in that way.

Similarly, in our congregations, there is no law that requires us to welcome the stranger. Nobody had to welcome me when I came into those congregations. But neither should we be comfortable to ignore or distance ourselves from the newcomer.

We choose to greet the newcomer because it is consistent with our UU beliefs and because we believe it is the right thing to do. We are compelled to do it because to not to do so would be uncomfortable.

Another example in our congregations, we are not required by law to respect the worth and dignity of others. It's just a principle. It's not the law. But neither are we free to show open disrespect and disregard for our fellow congregants, even though we know that a lot of people do that.

Instead, we are compelled to respect and show dignity for other people because it is consistent with our beliefs and because it's the right thing to do. Obedience to the unenforceable. By a show of hands, how many of you have a Congregational Covenant or Covenant of Right Relations?

How many do not? I'd say maybe 2/3 do, one third do not. And for those that do, is it working? Do people know what the Congregational Covenant is? Yeah? Good. Kind of, some do. Some don't.

So let's be honest here. Not everyone in our congregations is going to always do the right thing. If that was the case, you wouldn't be here, and we wouldn't be having this conversation.

So in the time remaining, not including time for you to have an opportunity to share, I would like to share some ways in which you as leaders—you as leaders, you wouldn't be here at General Assembly if you weren't a leader in your congregation—can help people to do the right thing, ways in which you can create an environment a culture where civility is cherished and lifted up and where rudeness is minimized and rendered ineffective.

So make no mistake, we're talking about culture change here. And you, the leaders, need to plow the ground. I'm going to pause for a second and check my time. So here's suggestion number one. I've got five suggestions, so if you're really doing well at two or three of them, hopefully there's a couple that you can get better at.

Suggestion number one, wave first. This idea actually comes from a sermon that the beloved minister of my home congregation, Reverend Peter Friedrichs, gave several months back. And by the way, here's a candid shot of Reverend Peter, who by the way is not here to see this. We think a lot of Peter.

In his sermon, Peter spoke of riding in his grandfather's boat when he was a kid waving to the other boats and having others wave back. Over the years, however, as he grew to adulthood, he noticed fewer and fewer boaters waving. And then one day, he had an epiphany.

As he wrote, "While I was busy watching to see if other people were going to wave, I wasn't waving. I wasn't just witnessing the decline of the friendly waving boater. I was a part of it." And so Peter committed to waving first, to be extravagant in his waving.

And Reverend Peter can be very extravagant. To wave early and often, and then he continued in his sermon, "And you know what? Most people waved back, not everyone, but most. And they smiled back too."

He wrote, "By choosing to wave first, I felt my heart open to the world. To nurture a generous spirit in ourselves and to birth generosity and joy into the world, all we have to do is wave first." So that's the challenge for you as leaders in our congregations.

When we see the stranger in our midst, when we see someone that we haven't seen for awhile, when we see a member who is not being engaged, we need to do the bold thing. We need to do the risky thing. And we need to wave first.

And I'll actually challenge you to do that for the rest of our time at General Assembly. Do this first. Walk down the hallway tonight or tomorrow, and count the number of people you pass who don't acknowledge you. But you've got to make eye contact. You've got to look at them, and look at how many people look away or don't notice you.

You don't have to do a social science experiment or get an ugly baby or anything like that. And then stop doing that. And then walk down the hallway and just say hello to people as you're walking by. And see the difference. I find that every time I do it, people smile and wave back.

So that's number one, OK. Number two—oh there's people waving and bears and babies waving. Number two, practice accountability. George Orwell wrote, "Society has always seem to demand a little more from human beings than it will get in practice.

Someone else will stop and let the pedestrian cross. Someone else will pick up the trashcan that is lying in the middle of the street. In our congregation, someone else will say hello to the newcomer. Someone else will thank the person who made coffee for us this morning.

Someone else will notice that there are no more paper towels in the bathroom, and they'll refill the container. In uncivil congregations, members feel as if they don't own the congregation they don't see it as their responsibility to create a safe, secure, warm, and civil environment.

They leave it to the leaders or the minister or the staff. And I always kind of half jokingly say that a congregation that has a welcoming committee is generally not welcoming because they leave it to the welcoming committee or they leave it to the greeters to do the welcoming.

They're no longer accountable. I'm waiting to go into a congregation where every member—OK, maybe not every member—but where members feel free and bold to come up to me and say, I'm glad you're here, not just the greeters or not just the welcoming committee.

So in our congregations, if congregations feel that they don't own the congregation, they adopt the mindset of being a consumer or a client of services. They give their power away. They believe that their own needs can best be satisfied by the actions of others, in this case, usually the elected or the designated leaders.

What needs to happen in our congregations, says author Peter Block, who I quote a lot, is to move people from a consumer/client mindset to a mindset of citizenship. Citizens who are willing to be accountable for and committed to the well-being of the whole, who are committed to building the community.

This requires that members realize and assume their power in effecting change, that they realize that they are cause and not effect. And the only way that this can happen, the only way to change this culture, is for you, the leaders, to give up your power and to share it with the members of your congregation.

As leaders, we need to ask for help. We need to listen. We need to heed the advice of others knowing that we cannot and should not do it alone. These are concepts we don't have time to cover adequately today, but accountability among our membership is essential if our culture is to shift toward one that covets civility and does not tolerate rudeness.

And this should be part of the introduction, the orientation when people walk into our congregation, and especially when they begin their path to membership. So that's number two. OK so far? Am I talking too much? I can be quiet. You can talk among yourselves for awhile.

Anybody have to go to the bathroom or anything? Are you OK? By the way, I hope that no one will get up and leave during my presentation because that would be rude.

So suggestion number three, pay attention. Edward M. Hallowell said—I love this—"A human moment occurs anytime two or more people are together paying attention to one another." A human moment occurs anytime two or more people are together paying attention to one another.

Every act of civility is first of all an act of attention. We spend much of our daily lives neglecting to pay attention to each other—remember the crosswalk as an example—and to create more civil environments.

When we pay attention, we do justice to the presence of others in our lives. When I show you that you are worthy of my attention, I am acknowledging and honoring your worth. When this happens, we create moments of civility, understanding, respect, and love.

So my suggestion is, notice others. Pay attention. Listen to them with their whole being, W-H-O-L-E, as if what they are saying is the most important thing in the world. So here's suggestion number four, praise and appreciate.

It's really a simple thing and really powerful. Or let them eat grapes. So there was an experiment that was done at Emory University a few years ago. Some of you may have seen this. In this experiment, they used monkeys, but they've used other species as well.

And it was a fairness experiment. What they wanted to demonstrate was that if species, including human beings, do not feel that they are being treated with respect, if they don't feel that they are getting a fair shake, then they will act in an aggressive way. Not necessarily hitting, but they will act out.

They will pull away. They'll be sarcastic. They'll be resistant. They'll be argumentative. They will act in a violent way if they feel that they are not being treated fairly. So in this experiment, the monkey on the left and the monkey on the right were trained to do a simple task.

They were given a rock, and all they had to do was give the rock back to the researcher. Now, they were trained on the task using cucumbers. Now, monkeys apparently will work for cucumbers, but they're not crazy about them. I mean, who really is?

In this video, the monkey on the left will do the task and get a cucumber. The monkey on the right, though, gets a grape, and monkeys love grapes. So let me show you what happens.

SPEAKER: I mean, it would a stronger reaction, and that turned out to be right. The one on the left is the monkey who gets cucumber. The one on the right is the one who gets grapes. The one who gets cucumber note that the first piece of cucumber is perfectly fine. The first piece he eats.

Then he sees the other one getting grape, and you will see what happens. So she gives a rock to us. That's the task. And we give her a piece of cucumber, and she eats it. The other one needs to give a rock to us, and that's what she does. And she gets a grape. And she eats it. The other one sees that. She gives a rock to us now, gets again cucumber.


She tests a rock now against the wall. She needs to give it to us. And she gets cucumber again.

MARK BERNSTEIN: So this is actually the Occupy Movement that you see here. Isn't it amazing? It only took one trial for the monkey to realize that he wasn't being treated fairly and acted in an aggressive way. So imagine human beings in our congregations who don't feel that they're being treated with respect, that they're not being heard.

No one is listening to them. No one is paying attention to them. I mean, I wanted to start throwing cucumbers at that congregation that I was at. So we need to let them eat grapes. In order to have congregations of civility, there must be abundance of praise and recognition for the efforts of others, for what they do and for who they are.

The philosopher William James said, "The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated." The craving to be appreciated, we all need it. When we praise others, when we let them know how we feel about them, we let them know something about ourselves as well.

And so we strengthen the bonds between us. When we praise someone, we positively reinforce that behavior, and so we make it more likely that the person will engage in that behavior in the future. This is not manipulation. This is acknowledging people for doing good things.

When we praise others also, we reveal to people who they are, and perhaps we make them aware of their own gifts that they may not have been aware of previously. And the more specific the praise and appreciation, the more powerful it can be.

Thank you, Alice, for making this delicious cup of coffee. I appreciate you, Fred, for speaking your mind on this issue clearly and respectfully. You are wonderful, Samantha, for volunteering to help clean up after the potluck luncheon.

How often do we do this in our congregations? How often do we thank board members for serving on the board? How often do we thank teachers for leading RE classes? And I'm not talking about the annual end of church year teachers stand up so we can recognize you.

I'm talking about a member of the congregation going up to a teacher and saying, thank you for being such a wonderful role model for my daughter. The congregation whose members consciously and deliberately and voluntarily notice and acknowledge the efforts of others create an environment where rudeness has no place and where civility and community flourishes.

So again, you're the leaders. Be role models. Do it. Have other people watch you doing it. Watch other people who do it, and then go up and thank them for doing it. I have a background in behavior management, and reinforcement theory, and it's what we do.

If I get reinforced for doing something, I'm more likely to engage in that behavior in the future. And then here's number five, exceed expectations. Don't just meet them but exceed them. So in my area, in Philadelphia area and south, like down through Virginia, there is a chain of convenience stores called Wawa.

How many know what Wawa is? Yay. The rest of you are really out of luck because I love Wawa. I don't know what it is about a Wawa, but if our congregations could be like Wawa, I wouldn't need to be here. People hold the door open. They say thank you, everybody.

I don't know if it's the coffee or what. It's kind of like a 7-Eleven, but it's better. Years ago, Wawa introduced a touch screen where you can order deli items and sandwiches and stuff. And so I'm not real good with technology, and I'm hitting the buttons, and I'm getting lost, and like, receipts are spitting out.

And the person behind the counter, a young man, saw I was having trouble. And he said, can I help you? And I said, yeah, I want to start over, but I don't know how to go back to the beginning. So he said, hold on one second. He finished, took just a moment.

He finished what he was doing. He came around the counter, came up next to me, and said, let me show you how to reset it, hit the buttons and stuff. Then he said, what do you want to order? And I told him, and he said, well let me show you how to order that, took me through that.

The receipt came up. He ripped it off, handed it to me, and said, you go pay for that. I'll have it ready for you when you get back. I love Wawa. Not only did he meet my expectation. He exceeded it three times.

He could've said, well, hit that thing behind the counter. But he came around the counter, and he showed me how to reset it in case I screw the thing up again in the future. That was first. Then second he said, what do you want to order? And he showed me how to order it.

And then he ripped it off and just nice as you can, he said, you go pay for that. I'll have it ready for you. He not only met my expectations. He exceeded them. And that's what we need to be doing in our congregations. What a delightful way to engage with people.

So Carl, could you come up here for a second? I'm going to pick on Carl because I know him. I'm going to try something with you, OK? This is Carl, everyone.


MARK BERNSTEIN: OK, so, who said Carl everyone? They're waving. Wave back. Wow, they get it. They get it. You like us. You really like us. OK, so here's the scenario, Carl. We're eating together, you and I, and I ask you to pass the bread. What do you do?

CARL: I'd probably pass the bread.

MARK BERNSTEIN: You would pass the bread. OK. What else?

CARL: I think that's all I would do.

MARK BERNSTEIN: That's all you would do?

CARL: Yeah, I think so.

MARK BERNSTEIN: You wouldn't do anything else.

CARL: Mm-hmm.

MARK BERNSTEIN: You have failed this experiment, my friend.

CARL: I'm afraid so.

MARK BERNSTEIN: What else, Bonnie?

BONNIE: Butter.

MARK BERNSTEIN: You would pass the butter, why? Because I might need it. Because I might need it. Pass the salt. Yeah, here's the salt and the pepper, because you might decide you want pepper. It's exceeding our expectations. It's caring enough about each other so we're anticipating what people's needs might be.

You didn't fail this, Carl. You passed with flying colors.

BONNIE: Thank you, Carl.

MARK BERNSTEIN: Thank you, Carl. Actually, I really want really good evaluations, so I'm—creating civil congregations requires that we not only meet each other's needs but that we exceed them. It means not just responding to the obvious but anticipating what the other might need.

How can we not be civil toward each other in an environment where that is happening routinely? So these are the five strategies. Wave first. Practice accountability. Pay attention. Praise and appreciate. And exceed expectations.

This isn't rocket science. Although I don't know what rocket science is, maybe this is rocket science. I don't know. But it does mean changing the culture, shifting to a new way of being together. And it begins with you, the leaders. It means being proactive, taking risks, being role models.

Let me just share with you, these are the sources that I used because I wanted to acknowledge them. And let me just really quickly close with this. Writer Peggy Tabor Millin writes about watching raindrops on her window and noticing how two separate drops pushed by the wind, merge into one for a moment and then divide again, each carrying with it a part of the other.

By that momentary touching, neither was what it was before. So it is in our encounters with each other. Peggy Tabor Millin wrote, "We never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace." Isn't that lovely?

If we remember this always, we live lives of civility and kindness and respect. We live out every day our Unitarian Universalist faith. Thank you all for being with me.



About the Author

Mark Bernstein

Mark Bernstein is a former member of the Congregational Life Staff of the Central East Region of the UUA and currently serves as an adjunct consultant....

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