Denise Passero believes a simple smile can make a difference in the day of a complete stranger, especially nowadays when difficulties making ends meet can preoccupy thoughts.
Even running into a cranky shopper in a store can set a bad day in motion.
“You leave and you feel a little bit bad. That can affect your entire day,” she said.
Fostering mutual respect for other people will be a new focus of Passero, an information technology administrator at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, as she heads up the institution’s new Civility Committee.
Approved recently by the college’s board of trustees, the ad-hoc committee involving administrators, educators and students will have one not-so-simple mission: “To foster an environment of civility where all members of the FM community and visitors can experience an environment of mutual respect and support that is civil in all aspects of human relations.”
Society is rife with examples of violent outbursts on college campuses and street corners, and Passero said most people are familiar with “road rage.”
Eventually, work to counteract social behavior that impacts others in a negative way has to start somewhere, and she said the college is an ideal place to start.
The committee endeavors to meet monthly, but Passero expects to make use of online communication, where students and staff can share ideas on how to make it easier for people to be nice during the limited free time they have.
Mood rubs off
Their work will lead to a celebration of sorts in the spring of 2012, called “Civility Week,” where they hope to impress upon everyone who listens “how their behavior affects others.”
It doesn’t take much, Passero said, to change a person’s outlook on a cloudy day.
She uses the example of a shopping trip she took recently, where she met only briefly with a cashier who appeared “delighted to be there.”
“When I left, I felt completely uplifted just because of her attitude,” Passero said.
The woman’s kindness made her forget to even check her receipt to complain to herself how prices have been increasing.
It could take just one person thinking twice about being kind instead of dismissive, something Passero hopes can spread out from the campus.
College President Dustin Swanger said in a email he doesn’t think the perceived lack of civility these days is the product of people’s conscious thought. But regardless of its origin, “All across the country we are all seeing evidence of a loss of civility — and civility matters.”
The college’s strategic plan states the college wants to incorporate civility into its curriculum, he said.
“So, we’re working on how we do that in a meaningful way.”