AT this moment in history when "politician" qualifies as a dirty word, Vaclav Havel remains a gentle and inventive outsider even while serving as president of Czechoslovakia. His country is no less troubled than the rest of the world, suffering from a depressed economy as well as the woes of divisiveness caused by ethnic, class, age, and gender differences that hard times have exacerbated. But Havel refuses to treat these political problems in the manner of, well, a politician.
A typical politician - read his lips - starts with the economy. Havel writes another sort of scenario. He puts first on his agenda the healing of divisiveness, a return to "civility." The "catastrophic decline in the level of public manners," he writes, "frightens me more than economic decline."
In an essay in the current New York Review of Books, Havel argues that prosperity will mean little until acrimonious relationships within the community are improved. He cites a prevailing hostility and distrust between "the powerful and the weak," between "the young and the elderly," between police and citizens, between men and women.
Havel extends his vision of harmony to include "people's relationships to nature, to animals, to the atmosphere, to the landscape, to towns, to gardens, to their homes" - to "the culture of everyday life."
None of this requires money, Havel points out, though he insists that "in many respects, improving the civility of everyday life can accelerate economic development" - a premise any shopper in search of courteous service as well as goods can support.
What is the ultimate purpose of a politician, a leader? "To make life more pleasant, more interesting, more varied, and more bearable," Havel says.
Vote for a man or woman who says that, whatever office they're running for.
The upheaval that brought Havel to power got dubbed the "Velvet Revolution." If this new call for a more civil Czechoslovakia can be termed the Second Velvet Revolution, may it spread around the world - very politely, of course.