As eyesight fades in old age, man's vision for civility becomes clear

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comAugust 25, 2012 

In this 2005 photo, Hilton Head Island resident Charles W. Gibbes poses with the watch given to him by former National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle in appreciation of his work for the Super Bowl. Gibbes was part of the team at Spencer Advertising Co. that handled national advertising for the first five Super Bowl programs.


Philip Fitch Vincent writes in his book, "Restoring School Civility," that "to succeed we must first recognize basic practices that if applied would promote a civil environment."

Vincent has incorporated into his work principles of civility found in Stephen L. Carter's 1998 book, "Civility: Manners, Morals and Etiquette of Democracy." Among them:

  • Our duty to be civil toward others does not depend on whether we like them or not.

  • Civility requires that we sacrifice for strangers, not just for people we happen to know.

  • Civility has two parts: generosity, even when it is costly, and trust, even when there is risk.

  • Civility creates not merely a negative duty not to do harm, but an affirmative duty to do good.

  • Civility assumes that we will disagree; it requires us not to mask our differences but to resolve them respectfully.

  • Civility requires that we listen to others with knowledge of the possibility that they are right and we are wrong.

  • Hilton Head Islander Charles W. Gibbes has created some big bangs in his life, like the exploding scoreboard at the old Comiskey Park in Chicago.

    At 93, he's targeting a quieter, more lasting impact on society.

    He wants people to be more civil, and he wants it to start at Hilton Head Island High School.

    It's not that Hilton Head High is less civil than the next school, even though a teacher friend tells Gibbes he would be surprised at the low state of morality among students.

    Gibbes thinks civility can be taught in a planned and deliberate way, like algebra or geometry.

    "Teaching civility starts with the parent," he said, "but the school, with extracurriculars, can have the kid 10 to 11 hours a day."

    It can begin at one local school, he said, and spread to the world.

    "I always start with a concept," he said.

    Decades ago, he had the concept that national advertising would help pull together the National Football League and promote what became known as the Super Bowl.

    He pushed for eight years to get national training facilities for American Olympians, pulling the corporate world into the movement.

    He helped the NBA develop the 24-second clock.

    And he saw the potential in Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck's wacky idea for a scoreboard that would explode when a home team slugger walloped a home run. That led to Gibbes becoming a pioneer of scoreboard and stadium advertising.

    Today the concept is that civility can circle the globe.

    This new vision is starting without literal vision, as macular degeneration has left Gibbes legally blind.

    But it doesn't take eyes to see the erosion of civility in America -- from a Congressman shouting "You lie!" at the president during the State of the Union address to a pack of middle school bullies harassing a 68-year-old school bus monitor so harshly the nation was appalled.

    Helping Gibbes see solutions to this problem is a friend and neighbor at his second home in the North Carolina mountains.

    Philip Fitch Vincent turned a career as an educator into a career in civility, or character education. He has worked with more than 30 school districts in North Carolina, and consulted with educators in 25 other states.

    Vincent works with faculties, but also full communities. Gibbes is trying to raise $5,500 to bring Vincent to Hilton Head for three days of interaction with school and community. He's working with school and business leaders. His son, attorney Brian Gibbes, foresees the creation of a nonprofit agency.

    "I have a vision beyond Hilton Head for this," Charlie Gibbes said. "Roman numeral II, after Hilton Head, is to go global. It's all about what has become one of my main missions in life -- civility."

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