Northampton Press

Saturday, April 4, 2020


Monday, December 23, 2019 by The Press in Opinion

Bringing back civility one door at time

A workday morning and things were not going well so far.

Leaving home later than planned. No time for breakfast. Traffic to work heavier than expected.

And the gas gauge was closer to E than F.

In a hurry, I was distracted, mentally calculating if I would be on time, when the door of Wawa, Cedar Crest Boulevard, South Whitehall Township, miraculously stood open.

A tall man, bundled up against an unexpectedly cold late fall morning, held the door wide.

I probably stumbled a little as I stammered my startled thanks.

“I’m trying to bring back chivalry one door at a time,” he said with a smile. “There’s too much hate in the world.”

His words brought to mind another chance encounter.

It was a fortunate accident when Cees Hamelink, a scholar of communication, technology and culture, took questions from students during a visit to a university campus where I was studying.

His visit came in 1998 or 1999 and a student, somewhat nostalgic about the end of the 20th century, asked Hamelink for his thoughts.

Hamelink bid the 20th century a less-than-fond farewell, noting two world wars and numerous other conflicts and societal ills, many instigated by hate, among the black marks against the passing century.

Hamelink welcomed the then-coming 21st century as an opportunity for a new start.

As preparations continue to mark the coming of a new decade in the 21st century, the black marks continue to pile high as humans continue to harm and hate each other with abandon.

In the opening days of December, a Berks County mother was accused of allegedly inflicting unspeakable harm upon two of her own children.

Three weeks ago, a pair of terrorists attacked a kosher market in New Jersey, killing those inside as well as a veteran police detective who attempted to confront them about an earlier crime.

“At this point, the evidence points toward acts of hate,” Gurbir Grewal, the New Jersey state attorney general, said in a news conference days after the attack.

On Dec. 15, a Philadelphia man was found dead in the 300 block of Hamilton Street in Allentown, a death ruled a homicide by the Lehigh County coroner.

Meanwhile, nations, including this one, remain at war around the globe.

At home, shootings at locations from high school corridors to college classrooms to work places to movie theaters to suburban shopping centers to places of worship to concert venues to city streets scroll through our news feeds.

News headlines are crowded with stories of horrific acts perpetuated against men, women and children; those who are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, trans and/or questioning; of different abilities, races, colors and religions.

Inspired by the gentle man who held the door at Wawa, I turned to the American Heritage and other dictionaries to investigate the meaning of “chivalry” and found the following: “Chivalry is characterized by consideration and courtesy, displaying qualities such as bravery, honor and great gallantry.”

A caveat often is added, however, in the next words “especially toward women.”

Arguably, such characteristics should be extended and applied broadly and perhaps are well encapsulated in civility, an expression of courtesy and politeness with a longer, wider and deeper reach and devoid of hatred.

The holiday season, especially the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, often prompts reflection and recollection as declarations are made of the top books, songs, movies and other things of the past year, and in special years like this one, the past decade.

Next year, perhaps the best acts of civility can be added to those roundups.

And, if I may borrow from the gentleman at the convenience store, the best way to build that list is one door at a time.

April Peterson

editorial assistant

East Penn Press

Salisbury Press