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: