Over the course of the last 50 years in America (and around the world), we have witnessed a constant erosion of civility in our personal lives, home communities, local and national governments and in our interactions at the international level amongst powers, both super and not.
In this span of time, we have gone from a consumer-oriented environment where uniformed personnel pumped our gas and checked our oil, to fast food counters where staff members look as if they would rather strap us to a medieval torture device, than take a simple order for fries and a milk shake.
We have seen American sports devolve from a civil endeavor amongst sportsmen and sportswomen to parents shrieking at volunteer referees at soccer matches and pee wee football games. The collapse of civility is so thorough in our sporting lives that parents have actually physically assaulted and even killed each other over perceived “blown calls” and other children’s unsportsmanlike behavior.
Around the world, people now feel entitled to inquire, debate and belittle other people for the ideas they hold, the countries they originate from and the leaders they follow. A laundry list of subjects that were once considered “bad form” for discussion at the dinner table are now consider fair game and appropriate ground for showing everyone how witty, intelligent or wry we are.
Doors are no longer held open – not for women, children or even the elderly. Vulgar gestures are shown in an effort to communicate our contempt for a person driving the exact speed limit, and the vulgarity is answered with gunfire. Entire generations of our youth have such utter contempt for civility that acquaintance rape, drive-by shootings, school bus beat downs, pornographic cell phone picture “love letters”, and trench coat mafias are almost accepted as part and parcel of growing up in America.
How and when did we reach a point when hand shakes, returning eye contact with our conversation partner, exchanging “please” and “thank you” and being concerned about the well being of a stranger become almost reviled aspects of our culture? And, does it matter?
I believe that there isn’t just a case to be made for the return of civility in our lives, I believe that it is a fundamental necessity to our survival as a species on this planet. Without the practice of civility, life has become a vicious activity focused on escalation. Instead of situations being handled in a civil manner, with a positive outcome for both participants, there now must be a winner in every interaction. And, if I don’t win, I escalate. You call me a name, I call you a name. You raise your hand, I beat you to the punch. You pull out a knife, I reach for my gun. In our intimate lives, we went from a world where kissing in public was a sign of promiscuity to an escalated environment where young teens virtually (and sometimes in reality) have sex on the dance floor in front of their peers and colleagues.
Civility says that I respect you as a person. That sometimes my needs have to be put aside to accomplish a greater good between us. That, on occasion, I have to withhold what I want to say so that I can listen to what you have to say.
It is time for civility to return; before it is too late for all of us.