Or: When you talk; be kind.
[NOTE: A shout out to Jay Heinrichs for prompting this dialog I’ve been having in my head and heart the past few weeks. I’ve been re-reading Jay’s book, “Thank You For Arguing”.]
DECORUM: There’s something you don’t hear much anymore. Maybe it’s because there isn’t much of it anymore—the thing, not the word. Let’s break it down a bit, and to do that, it’s probably better to start one step back and consider the word: decorus.
Decorous Got Its Start With Etiquette
The current meaning of decorous dates from the mid-17th century. One of the word's earliest recorded uses appears in a book titled The Rules of Civility (1673): "It is not decorous to look in the Glass, to comb, brush, or do any thing of that nature to ourselves, whilst the said person be in the Room." Decorous for a time had another meaning as well—"fitting or appropriate"—but that now-obsolete sense seems to have existed for only a few decades in the 17th century. Decorous derives from the Latin word decorus, an adjective created from the noun decor, meaning "beauty" or "grace." Decor is akin to the Latin verb decēre ("to be fitting"), which is the source of our adjective decent. It is only fitting, then, that decent can be a synonym of decorous. —Merriam-Webster Dictionary
So let’s go with that: to have decorum requires decency, a willingness to adjust, to fit in, understanding and being appropriate. Here’s an example of this kind of decorum: Audi alteram partem; which means, let the other side be heard.
This idea has been a part of ethical conduct since The Beginning: man, woman and Creator. Adam and Eve engage in original sin, and what does God do? Audi alteram partem. He gives them an opportunity to tell their side of the story.
GOD said, “Who told you you were naked? Did you eat from that tree I told you not to eat from?”
The Man said, “The Woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.”
GOD said to the Woman, “What is this that you’ve done?”
“The serpent seduced me,” she said, “and I ate.” —Genesis 3:11-13
The US Supreme Court gave the idea this endorsement:
"Audi alteram partem - hear the other side! - a demand made insistently through the centuries, is now a command, spoken with the voice of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, against state governments, and every branch of them - executive, legislative, and judicial - whenever any individual, however lowly and unfortunate, asserts a legal claim.”
Why is it so hard to audi alteram partem? Why must we have the final word? Why are we so defensive? Why are we so offensive? Why are we so sure we are right and therefore ‘they’ are wrong?
Is it politics that has damaged civility; or are politics the result of damaged civility? Maybe it’s TV “news” and talk radio. Is there hope for decorum, for civil discourse, for conversation that doesn’t end up dividing?
I’m not looking for tea and sympathy—i.e., pity, but rather an exchange of empathy along with a scone and a nice cup of tea, or better yet; a strong coffee and hearty discussion sounds good, or a pint and pizza and good honest conversation.
HOW ABOUT MEETING UP? Not for something all fancy like Afternoon Tea, although that is civilized, but something earthier; but decorus. ARE YOU IN? Let me know at email@example.com and I’ll let you know the when and the where of the next get together.