"Play nice!"

Parents have been admonishing their children with this omage to civil obedience since the days of Cain and Abel. [Would that they had listened!]

Get along. Be respectful. At work. At play. In the home.

If it seems that civility, from the street corner to the world stage, has not been a presence since the Small World Pavilion opened at the 1965 World's Fair, you are not alone in such thought.

Indeed, Rutgers University, the flagship of the New Jersey State University system, recognizing this lack of "niceness" (and, perhaps, hoping to capitalize on it), has launched "Project Civility, a two-year initiative to engage the New Brunswick campus in a series of activities and discussions that aim to cultivate an environment of courtesy and compassion through thoughtful communication and interaction."

Yes, civil discourse, on and off campus, as an engagement of both diplomacy and humanity.

No, not just basic manners, as in no elbows on the table, but, as Barry Qualls, vice president of Undergraduate Education, whose office is co-sponsoring the project with the Office of the Dean of Student, opines, "It is about the ways we relate as individuals, as social groups, as nations. It is about the ways different people and countries define what constitutes a civil society – a place where we live without fear and with ease of interaction."

No one could disagree (at least with a straight face) that more civility is needed in today's "me first," "everyone else be damned" world, and not only among nations.

Could it be that civility, like laughter, is contagious? That it will spread from New Brunswick clear down Interstate 95 to, say, the nation's capital? Or half way around the globe, impacting upon some fanatic warlord in Afghanistan?

We wouldn't hold out for miracles, a thousand Project Civilities notwithstanding.

Then again, random acts of kindness have been known to spontaneously spring from the well, being gratuitously paid forward, even by strangers.

Maybe a world where civility is the norm is beyond the realm of imagination, whether on Planet Earth, as a whole, or provincially, in the very heart of the Garden State. Still, we could hope. And if civility should bathe the campus with the warm glow of understanding and compassion, might that the underlying dialogue spawning such niceties migrates well beyond the ivy-covered gates.

Who knows? The Rutgers project might even bring some civility, or at least an aura of sanity, to the college application and admissions process. We're not holding our collective breath on that one. . .
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By the way, there may even be some money in being civil. Project Civility will also feature an essay contest with three cash prizes totaling $1,500 funded by The New York Times and offices of Undergraduate Education and Dean of Students. Contest details will be announced at the inaugural event on Sept. 29.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer and his guest bloggers.
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