Red Civility and the Wolf of Rudeness

“I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone.” –Edmund Burke

 

I’ve been thinking about Little Red Riding Hood—specifically the scene where she confronts her “grandmother” about her new look.

 

Wolf and Red

Little Red Riding Hood choosing her words with care. (picture by William Henry Margetson 1861-1940)

“Oh Grandmother, what big ears you have.”

“Oh Grandmother, what big eyes you have.”

“But Grandmother, what large hands you have!”

“Oh! But Grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have!”

 

It occurs to me that if this had been present day, Red would never have gotten that close. She would have insulted Grandmother with some quip about, “Girl, you look like death—what’s up with that?!” and dropped the basket at the door. I don’t think anyone wanted her to get eaten by a wolf, but because she did and survived, she was the better for it.

This is a perfect illustration of what we’ve become. We’d rather go for the cheap laugh than really try to help someone. We think of kindness as falseness and are encouraged to, “keep it real.”

Well, how’s this for real? Almost every law we’ve ever fought for and enacted has been in the furtherance of civility. Our constitution was born of a people who wanted respect and fairness. Should we be proud that we are a people who legislate thoughtfulness or sad that it needs to be written into law? Probably both, but in an age where people can anonymously churn out hate in a comment section perhaps Shakespeare is right when he writes discretion is the better part of valor.

This isn’t coming out of thin air. I recently had an experience where my work had to be critiqued. I welcome the chance to hear other people’s thoughts and know it’s the only way to improve. However, one of my reviewers thought it was an appropriate venue to scrawl expletives and spew condescension in place of real criticism. I’m lucky I have a thick skin, but the sting was still there. More than anything, I was angry that the critic thought this was a good way to make a point.

Fairy tales teach us that the kind and sweet suffer, but are rewarded in the end with (their version) of a happy life. I do hope that’s true.

Its times like these I turn, not to fairy tales, but to philosophy. And when the subject is civility no one does it better than Edmund Burke. I leave you with this thought and hope it will help you when you encounter any incivility.

 

“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” –Edmund Burke