Decency Defined

By Lyn Turknett

Co-founder & Co-chair, Turknett Leadership Group

Decency used to be defined as keeping to expected standards of morality and responsible behavior, but I think that most of us now think of it as civility, helpfulness, and a commitment to those around us.  I think the term “common decency” is something we should pay attention to, because I think decency is indeed common – much more common than its opposite.  We often don’t notice decent behavior – we expect it.  We are currently in a time when decency seems less common, but I think it’s primarily civility in public discourse that has declined.  Perhaps that’s because it’s easy to be uncivil when the person you are speaking to is not known or not in front of you.  I know it’s easier to be impolite in an email than on the phone, and it’s even easier to spew incivility on social media.

Rediscovering Decency 

I see decency all the time – multiple times a day. I was sick last week, and even though I know she has every minute scheduled, Kathy Igou brought me a huge container of homemade chicken soup. Kathy Dowling, who kept shopping at early hours during the pandemic, brought us groceries throughout the pandemic. Barbara Jacobson waters our plants without our asking when we are out of town and shares her garden bounty with everyone.

I wrote a piece a few years ago on why people won’t listen to good news. Why don’t they? Because it’s so boringly common. The news of deaths in Ida’s wake made news last week, but there were thousands of stories, most untold, of neighbors rescuing neighbors, bus drivers sticking to their routes despite the danger, and the Cajun Navy organizing to rescue those in trouble. I decided to write this piece about good news while sitting in Sunday school waiting for the class to begin.  I overheard people a few rows up talking about the dearth of good news on television. I thought about the people in the room – all people who brought meals to the sick, helped feed refugees and their children, tutored children after school, and stocked the church food pantry.  Their stories are simply too common.

I think the question may be – how do we lift up ordinary decency? How do we help each other realize and celebrate what remarkable, overwhelmingly kind creatures we truly are? We certainly should be telling that story to our children.

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