Oxford University Press has now published Amy Olberding’s The Wrong of Rudeness: Learning Modern Civility from Ancient Chinese Philosophy.
A short description follows. I also recommend that people look at the brief blog entry that introduces some major themes and the remarkable first-person approach of the book to these issues. Anyone familiar with the look-to-oneself-first methodology and tenor of so much Confucian reflection will particularly appreciate this approach, and it makes the book all the more compelling reading as well.
In a time of fractious politics, being rude can feel wickedly gratifying, while being polite can feel simple-minded or willfully naïve. Do manners and civility even matter now? Is it worthwhile to make the effort to be polite? When rudeness has become routine and commonplace, why bother? When so much of public and social life with others is painful and bitterly acrimonious, why should anyone be polite?
As Amy Olberding argues, civility and ordinary politeness are linked both to big values, such as respect and consideration, and to the fundamentally social nature of human beings. Being polite is not just a nicety–it has deep meaning. Olberding explores the often overwhelming temptations to incivility and rudeness, and the ways that they must and can be resisted. Drawing on the wisdom of early Chinese philosophers who lived through great political turmoil but nonetheless avidly sought to “mind their manners,” the book articulates a way of thinking about politeness that is distinctively social. We can feel profoundly alienated from others, and others can sometimes be truly terrible, yet, as the Confucian philosophers encourage us to see, because we are social, neglecting the social and political courtesies comes at perilous cost.
The book considers not simply why civility and politeness are important, but how. It reveals how small insults can accumulate to damage social relations, how separating people into tribes undermines our better interests, and how even bodily and facial expressions can influence our lives with others. Many of us, in spite of our best efforts, are often tempted to be rude, and will find here tools for fighting that temptation.