Be Civil, Be Urban


Civility by Stephen L. Carter

Each morning on my walk to our offices at the Watergate, I stop off at Filter coffeehouse for a coffee to begin the work day.  What first drew me to this particular coffee shop on I Street, NW between 19th and 20th (as opposed to the 15 others I pass in my 25 minute walk) is the sign on the door.  It reads, simply, “Be Civil, Be Urban.”

I was intrigued.  My interest was really piqued when I stepped inside and found urban planning books and architectural models on the bookshelf, a prominent “Nope, No WiFi” sign, and a quote on the wall from architectural historian Spiro Kostof that reads, “Civilization, in this strict sense, is the art of living in towns.”

Living and working in groups – in towns, cities, and organizations – led us to move toward a civilized society.  But civilization is not guaranteed. How we live and work together is a key to productivity, learning, growth, and happiness.  Civility is – unfortunately – in short supply in much of our national and international discourse today.  The author and social critic Stephen Carter, in his book Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, blames this on an over-reliance on markets, a forgetfulness of the obligations we owe each other, and a lack of a moral compass in decision-making.  He says,

“…the language of the marketplace, the language of wanting, of winning, of simply taking – the language of self – is supplanting the language of community, of sharing, of fairness, of riding politely alongside our fellow citizens…”

That quote from Carter has stuck with me through the years, and it fits in with the “Be Urban, Be Civil” mantra at the coffee shop. That “Nope, No Wifi” sign states that Filter “is a place for talking, reading, and drinking coffee.”  Patrons are asked to “Please leave your laptops in your bag and take a break.  Say hi to your neighbor.  Emails can wait.”

No WiFi

No WiFi at Filter

I find that my daily 3-5 minutes in the shop helps me stop and think about ways I can be civil as I ride alongside my fellow citizens.  I think about it as I walk through the George Washington University campus, and look and speak to the staff and students who are out and about at that hour. On good days, it remains on my mind in the office, in meetings, and as I return home to family. When I’m reminded each morning that to live together well requires civility, I try and carry that mindset as far into the day as I can.

I don’t always succeed, so I’m happy to have a place to get my daily reminder of civility along with my cup of coffee. None of us got to where we are today on our own, and our lives are intertwined and enriched by all those who surround us.  If I forget to recognize that when I see you, please remind me that it may be time for a refill of my cup of civility coffee.  I’ll know exactly what you mean.

Have a great week and a wonderful holiday season.

More to come…


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