An old man walks down the street staring intently at the spot six inches in front of his walker. From the other direction strides a young man looking down at his phone, earbuds in place. Inevitably they collide.
In a store, anywhere, a woman talking loudly into her phone intersects with a man who seems to be talking to himself, but is in fact speaking through an earpiece. The shocked realization that there is somebody else there registers on both faces.
Two young men come across each other on a dark, rainy night. Suspicion and fear cloud both minds before either can speak.
What keeps encounters like these and many, many others from becoming shouting matches or worse?
News of the Zimmerman trial became inescapable. I'm not discounting any of the reasons given as cause of the shooting. But consider the impact of civility, and the lack of it, in the terrible outcome.
In these examples and others played out millions of times every day, something very basic happens that keeps strangers from becoming enemies. The old man and the young man, the man and the woman, the two young men - they look each other in the eye, someone apologizes, someone smiles, maybe a "how you doin'," or a nod of acknowledgement that you and I are both in the same space, on the same sidewalk. Then all these people continue their day, maybe telling a story of running into someone today but everything turned out OK.
Basic civility isn't Southern or even American, but a universal idea that allows all of us strangers to co-exist in some kind of peace most of the time. Sometimes it's hard. I think we need more of it.
John Miller, Strasburg