Stephen L. Carter’s “Etiquette of Democracy”

I’ve mentioned to people several times now, and during my interview for Palo Alto Planning and Transportation, something I heard second-hand about the basis of Democracy being something like saying hello to your neighbor when he approaches you on the street. I was pretty sure the reference was to Stephen Carter, which I found by searching various combinations of the thought I was trying to express. Resuming my back-searching, I found this short video:

Later I found a longer essay that seems to be what the speaker I heard — it was a woman, maybe a woman of color, at Stanford’s Pigott (little) Theatre, maybe a playwright, maybe Suzanne Lori Parks or Anna Deveare Smith, maybe Amy Freed was in the audience — of Stephen L. Carter, a professor of law at Yale, had paraphrased.

Saying hello to a stranger on the street or driving with a bit more care are acts of generosity. Conceding the basic goodwill of my fellow citizens, even when I disagree with them, is an act of trust. By greeting us as she did, in the midst of a white neighborhood and a racially charged era, Sara was generous when nobody forced her to be, and trusting when there was no reason to be. Of such risks is true civility constructed.

Perhaps I am also conflating this with my experience hiring Danilo Perez, a Panamanian musician, to conduct a music seminar for middle schoolers and his reducing music to the basic block of two people saying hello and hello back, and then building up again from there to a roomful of singers, players and dancers, in conversation.

Here is a link to the book that puts Prof. Carter’s story in greater context:



About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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