Civility: trick - or treat?

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By Nancy Kennedy

The last time I was in an airport I picked up the book, “How to Talk to Anyone.” It promised 92 little “tricks” for big success in relationships.

Because my job involves talking to people, or more importantly getting them to talk to me, I bought the book.

The author, Leil Lowndes, also wrote “How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You.” I think the author may have used some crossover material from her other book in this one because trick No. 3 is “How to use your eyes to make someone fall in love with you.”

She said to use “epoxy eyes” — keeping your eyes glued on the person you want to fall in love with you.

However, that didn’t work for me in junior high when I tried to get some boy’s attention by camping out near his locker before homeroom and epoxying my eyes on him until the bell rang, but he never fell in love or even talked with me.

The author spends a lot of ink on the art of small talk. She said it’s not about the words you use as much as it is about putting people at ease. You do that, she said, by convincing people that “they are OK and that the two of you are similar. When you do that, you break down the walls of fear, suspicion and mistrust.”

Lowndes said the best small talk is actually the simplest. “Where are you from?” “What did you think of yesterday’s football game?” “How do you know the (party host)?”

She said anything you say is fine as long as it’s not complaining, rude or unpleasant, because that instantly labels you as a whiner or a creep, or worse.

The whole book was less about learning tricks to fake your way in conversations as it was about learning to make others comfortable in conversing with you.

Point: It’s about the other person.

Lately, that seems to be a fading concept. The current buzzword these days is “civility,” as in “Whatever happened to it?” People today aren’t civil in their communication, at least not initially. Just spend a day answering phones here at the newspaper. Or ask a customer service rep from any company how her day went and you’re bound to get an earful.

One of my pet peeves is people talking on cell phones when they’re at the checkout counter at a store, completely disregarding the store clerk.

To me, that communicates loudly that you, the cell phone user, don’t regard the person ringing up your purchases and taking your money as your equal. That’s the height of arrogance and rudeness.

That’s just one example. Multiply all the ways we discount one another’s humanity by our rude behavior, our insults and crude language, our whining and complaining, our demanding and degrading and diva-like attitudes and we have a real problem.

At its core, the problem of our incivility is a lack of love. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). We’re good at loving ourselves — that’s why we’re so rude in the first place. It’s all about me, and the rest of you can go to — well, you get my drift.

But more than a “How to get civility back” book, people need to first get loved — by God. We can’t truly love others unless we’ve first been loved.

Jesus was the most other-focused person to walk the planet. He used his epoxy eyes on people and made use of small talk to get people to drop their defenses and build a relationship with him. And when they did, when they allowed themselves to be loved by him, their conversations and dealings with others were transformed.

Want to know how to talk to people and have success in relationships? Let God love you, then you’ll find you complain less, are less rude, less whiny and that you are more pleasant, more positive, more likable. When you are, chances are the people around you will be too.

Either way, it’s contagious, and it starts with me and you.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.