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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Modern Civility

Heather Curlee-Novak

My husband says he is a grumpy old man even though he is not old! He is a little bit of a cynic. While his loyalty runs deep to work, friends and of course, darling me, he rarely feels safe meeting new people.  He’s seen enough human behavior to know he wants to choose carefully how he spends his heart and time. I on the other hand, am the Five Year Old. He likens me to that freckled girl in pigtails of my youth standing in the front yard addressing everyone passing by with “Hi!  I’m Heather! Wanna be friends?!?”  He’s not wrong.  I find people fascinating. I wade in during the first conversation asking about their sex lives and political views. I then hit any other awkward topics as an oversharer…all but inviting them to live with us starting next week.

I like living that way.  I’ve tried to put a filter on it, but…well…Nope.  I seize almost all of my days and the people wandering into them.  I am the same person in my backyard, at church, in the store and standing on my front lawn hollering “Hi!”  I am a ‘what you see is what you get’ (even if you do not really want it) person. BUT. I admit I have begun to understand my husband’s view on people a bit better these most recent years.

Social media is helpful, I guess.  I didn’t know so many people were still racist.  And sexist.  And Angry.  Sure, I heard about things and read the news…I showed up at  protests, volunteered and voted.  I ran in circles of good people, even online, and I didn’t realize that just because a person reached adulthood didn’t mean they were grownup.  At first I was sad when someone would bark at me in an online comment.  I was unprepared for the nasty comments on other’s comments from strangers on the internet.

I care about people, and I try to move through the world making that clear. Seeing people act so ugly towards each other hurts my soul.  It hurts my faith in people and God.  The reality that people have recently felt more emboldened to hate each other sucks.  Many adults publically villanize people with polarized us versus them rhetoric.  I’ve done it.  I still do it.  It is comfortable to feel that Us v.s Them alignment .  The distance of the computer keyboard affords immature people the option to be horrible, without facing the very real person they are being horrible to.  I had to put my arms around that Little 5 year old Front Yard Heather, and explain that not all strangers are worthy of her warmth and friendship. 

I can understand a person being raised to believe something will have a hard time trying to retrain their brain.  If your whole family, whom you love deeply, think something, it would be near impossible to break from them by believing differently.  When someone is ugly or cruel or judgmental, I remind myself how difficult it must be for them.  I imagine the pain it must bring to live in this little box holding onto garbage, too afraid to admit it is just that.  Of course they lash out in their desperation to be right. None of us ever want to be wrong.

What would help us now is modern civility.  I miss the days I’ve never known where manners mattered enough that adults used them.  I want to use my good manners with people.  I apologize when I am wrong, and I am often wrong.  I want to offer my best to the people I interact with. Even if they cannot do the same for me.  (Although I wish they could do the same for me, and for you, too.) I believe adults should be civil even as they disagree with each other.

My Little Heather in the Front Yard has grown up the hard way these recent years.  I do not like people as much, but I do  understand my husband better.  When people disappoint you enough, you need to protect yourself.  I’m glad to know the truth about the anger and hatred in my country, but I miss my innocence.  Now that I live in this modern reality, I will do my best from my own front yard to model modern civility. I will take action for what is right. I’ll create space for angry people to change into people with open hearts and minds and possibly some manners.


Music: "Toxicity" by System Of A Down

Heather Novak's professional history includes sales and customer service training and troubleshooting for businesses, but she loves motivational speaking best. Heather leads church events for youth, singles and women, has spoken for Chicago Apartment Association and many organizations throughout Indiana. Nowadays Heather is just another stay at home wild mama trying to loose some weight, keep some sanity and enjoy her life. She is being raised by two little girls named Portia and Libby and is indulged by a guy named John who was gracious enough to marry her. Heather blogs about F Words: Feisty Faith, Fumbling Family, Fairly Healthy Food, Failed Fashion and Fabulous Friendships. You can find her at