Civility…is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.     (G.W. Bush, 2001 inaugural address)

Yes, I am surprised too, to find myself quoting the second President Bush, but I know I am not alone in wishing we would more often choose civility, even though it can sometimes be a complicated choice. Is it better to ignore a lack of civility, going high when they go low? In doing so do we disconnect ourselves from conversations that could expose more common ground than we might suppose? When does protest become brave and civic-minded, instead of rude or defensive? Can perceived incivility become prophetic? How often does seeming civility actually shut down dissent? Does the civility of political correctness sometimes mask patronizing attitudes that foster “otherness?”

As I said, it’s complicated.

True civility insists that we unpack our disagreements, talking to people who look at the world in a different way from us. Protest and dissent are entirely compatible with civility, for these are things which help us express the ways that our concerns are connected to our values. A WASP-y pretense that “everything is just fine so there is nothing to discuss,” however well-mannered, does nothing to move us forward as a society. Acting with civility allows us to demonstrate our trust that people can be better than the incivility too often worn as protective armor. It proves our desire to live in community rather than chaos.

Civility is often seen as synonymous with politeness, and Bach’s 18th Goldberg Variation is very polite indeed. Though genuine civility has to be much more than simply polite, let the music’s calm and measured character remind us that just such an approach could go a long way in getting our ideas heard by those who disagree with us. And listen to the music intently, just as we might listen closely to others as a sign of our engagement with those we’d sometimes rather ignore.

Goldberg Variations, 18 (Civility)


Save the Date:  Thursday, June 22, 7:30 p.m.   Sophia Vastek and Sonya Sutton, playing music for two pianos by Bernstein, Gershwin, Glass, and Reich.  With special guest Joan Phalen singing songs of Bernstein and Sondheim.   A change of venue – losing the intimacy of a house concert, but gaining the space and acoustic of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 4201 Albemarle Street, NW.  Donations gratefully accepted to benefit the work of empowering the homeless that is done by Samaritan Ministries of Greater Washington.

I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was given to me on January 5, 2016.


One thought on “Civility

  1. Brilliant — as always. ” A WASP-y pretense that “everything is just fine so there is nothing to discuss,” however well-mannered, does nothing to move us forward as a society.” Yup.


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