Why Civility is in Decline By Bob Lowry
I wish I knew. More to the point, I wish it would stop. As the recent shooting at the baseball practice in Washington demonstrates, things seem to be escalating in a very dangerous way.
An article in Psychology Today said, “There seems to be more and more rude, demeaning, insulting, and aggressive language and behavior in our society.” That sums up what most of us experience on a too-regular basis. The question then becomes, why?
Civility is defined as courtesy in behavior or speech. I’m pretty sure we all know it when we experience it. From holding a door for a stranger to helping someone reach a box of cereal on the top shelf, from disagreeing without disrespect to making a fresh pot of coffee after taking the last cup, civility makes life more pleasant and satisfying.
So why does civility seem to be in decline, maybe even dying from disuse? I can offer a few possibilities. Your (civil) additions to my list are encouraged!
1) Social media
Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat didn’t start out to be uncivil. I imagine the inventors thought just the opposite. People could connect with others anywhere in the world to share ideas, photos, thoughts, and feelings. What was not anticipated was the anonymity of the Internet giving some people the freedom to insult, demonize, and degrade with no personal consequences.
Those first hurtful comments seemed to open the floodgates. Decency and respect were swept away. Nice comments didn’t get retweeted or reposted nearly as often as the hateful, inciteful ones. The lack of any boundaries seems to have encouraged a certain type of person to flourish while those repelled by the verbal vomit stopped participating. Politeness was buried under waves of disrespect. Of course, it is possible to avoid this stuff on your feeds, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
2) Political Correctness
I dislike the term, political correctness. It has come to mean something very different from its original meaning, which was to avoid words or phrases that denigrated certain people based on differences, disabilities, sexual or racial matters. Because of the extreme nature of some PC zealots, the whole idea of being sensitive of those different from us has become a reason for pushback. Being politically correct has become a negative.
This allows for some of the worst traits of humans to be expressed under the banner of being freed from the abuses of extreme PC. Rebellion has allowed the pendulum to swing so far to the other side that marginalizing the “others” has become acceptable to many. Civility is one of the victims of this mindset.
3) 24 hour news cycle
Most readers of this blog grew up in the era of three networks on television and a morning newspaper. Whatever happened in our town, state, nation, or the world, would only come to our attention if it was part of the 30 minute Huntley-Brinkley or Walter Cronkite newscast at 6pm, or on the front page of tomorrow’s paper. Radio newscasts were about the same: hog and wheat prices, a local robbery, or whatever the networks in New York could fit in a 5 minute update at the top of the hour. Everything was slower. Reactions were muted by time and distance.
No more. Hundreds, if not thousands of sources, rush to inform us of whatever they deem important in a continuous flood. Something that happens in Paris or Moscow, New York, Washington D.C., or Phoenix is before our eyes or into our ears with virtually no delay. The time to verify facts or put something in context is no more. On the plus side, we can be much more aware of what is happening in the world around us. On the other side of the ledger, the tsunami of stuff simply washes away our ability to process all this information. More often than not we react with emotion, not consideration. Blame, anger, and condemnation are too often the first responses.
4) Lack of shared visions
The word bipartisan could join civility in the endangered column. Extreme political divides, believing the other party is not only wrong but evil and doing the devil’s work, seems to be par for the course. Why that matters is two-fold. Firstly, governing in a representative democracy requires working together. It isn’t simply nice and more productive in the long haul, but it is required. Even if one party controls all branches of the government, without working together on major initiatives, the out-of-power party will just do their best to gum up the works and bring governance to a halt.
Secondly, the dysfunction in Washington spills well beyond its borders. Citizens find little reason to participate in building something; tearing down and obstructing become the new norm. We stop seeing ourselves as part of a whole. There is little shared vision of what made us who we are, and what is needed to maintain and build upon the successes and learn from the failures. Being civil when a person views others as a threat is impossible. It is very much a Lord Of The Flies worldview: survival of the fittest.
A little over a month ago I wrote A Different Way To Think About Politics. As expected, there were some comments that suggested my plea for moderation and civility in political matters was naïve and dangerous. I expected that; I rarely write about politics because that isn’t what this blog is about and most readers don’t want to find it on these pages.
This post really isn’t meant to be political. Point #4 above, The Lack of Shared Visions, happens in part because of politics, and I believe rubs off on our everyday life. But, civility and its importance in making life more pleasant is one that transcends donkeys and elephants, as the previous three points emphasize.
I am very interested in your observations in this area. Also, I am hoping you have some suggestions to improve our situation. The post on the positive power of affirmations, A Force That Powers The World might shed some light on how we deal with this problem, too.
OK, that ends my thoughts. I politely and respectfully ask you to add to this discussion!
By Bob Lowry