Bringing Back Civility to Society
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People written by Stephen R. Covey is one of the bestselling books on self-improvement of all time and one of the most influential. His self-improvement book has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide since its first publication in 1989. His book has been translated into 38 languages. In 1996, Time magazine named him one of the 25 most influential people.
The 7 Habits presents an “inside-out” approach to human effectiveness that is centered on principles and character. Inside-out means that change starts within oneself. Covey contends that many people who have achieved a high degree of outward success still find themselves struggling with the inner need to develop personal effectiveness and growing healthy relationships with other people.
Covey contends that the success literature of the last half of the 20th century largely attributed success to a philosophy of the Personality Ethic: personality traits, skills, techniques, and maintaining a positive attitude. He believes we need to return to the Character Ethic that preceded it and emphasized deeper principles to guide long-term relationships.
Covey refers to a Character Ethic, meaning to align one’s values with “universal and timeless” principles such as fairness, integrity, honesty and truthfulness, and treating people with respect. His principles are deep fundamental truths that have universal application. They apply in any situation, in any culture, and are found in the world’s major religions. Thus, they have components of the ethical values that form the basis of the Golden Rule. The habits discussed below are those that deal most directly with ethical behavior.
Covey contends in the first habit – Be Proactive -- that what distinguishes us as humans from all other animals is our inherent ability to examine our own character, to decide how to view ourselves and our situations, and to control our own effectiveness. This is important because it implies we can learn the art of ethical behavior and apply it to life’s circumstances.
In his second habit – Begin with the End in Mind – he raises the question: What are we trying to accomplish? This is similar to asking: How can we be happy with life’s circumstances? What is the end goal of life? How can we achieve greater meaning by our actions?
In his fifth habit – Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood – Covey points out that most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. We listen to ourselves as we prepare in our mind what we are going to say, and the questions we are going to ask. We filter everything we hear through our life experiences – our frame of reference. And consequently, we decide prematurely what the other person means before he or she finishes communicating.
Covey refers to empathetic listening as an important skill, which means listening until the other person feels understood. Empathic listeners listen for meaning. They listen for behavior. Empathetic people are open to others’ ideas and their feelings. They don’t lash out whenever they disagree. Empathetic people show they care by their actions.
Robin Sharma, a respected expert in leadership and personal mastery, suggests that each of us take just one day to make the decision to listen masterfully. “Don’t interrupt. Don’t rehearse your answer while the other person is speaking. And don’t dare check your email or search for text messages while another human being is sharing their words. Just listen. Just hear. Just be there for that person.”
Imagine if we were better at listening and were able to better control our anger when a speaker with whom we disagree tries to explain his/her position. It would go a long way to bring back civility to society.