Why Civility Matters

9 Mar

Editor’s Note: I rarely if ever post other authors’ material here. The many interesting voices in my head provide enough material to keep me sending missives to you, my demented following, for many years to come.

However, I couldn’t resist on this one. This is a topic vitally important, in my humble opinion. It’s quite serious, and I couldn’t have said it better than one Sara Hacala, so I sought her permission and the permission of AARP Bulletin to reprint it here.

It’s about how we have lost all sense of civility in public discourse today. I wholeheartedly agree, and I hope you’ll help me spread the word. I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, Independent, Marxist, Atheist, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Jewish, Pagan, Tree-Hugger Party, Ted Nugent Bow-and-Arrow Party–whatever. We need to stop shouting at each other. When, for example, did it become OK to scream out “You lie!” to the president during his address? And remember when the word “sucks” was not an acceptable catch-all for something that is less than par? My eighth-grade teacher sent us to the principal’s office whenever she heard that vulgar word. (This was 1972, mind you.) But you get the idea. Today’s social milieu sucks! oop… well, here’s Sara’s column:

by Sara Hacala

“Whatever happened to civility?” is an oft-heard lament, particularly among those of us over 50 who recognize civility’s increasing absence in a world changing at warp speed. Technology has forever altered the style, speed, and reach of our decidedly less personal communication. Escalating vulgarity, lax standards, sensational media, and polarized politics reign. Society today is far different than it was when we were young.

While rudeness is pervasive and rising (one recent report concluded that bad behavior may be the “new normal”), the societal and financial costs of incivility are astronomical–impacting our homes and relationships, schools, economy, health care, and government.

Civility is more than polite courtesies. Derived from the Old French and Latin term for “good citizen,” civility enables us to live respectfully in communities; it is the glue that binds our society. It can be the difference between life and death–as, for example, when health care professionals bully subordinates, cover mistakes, and create mistrust. It is an essential component of our human sustainability, enabling us not only to survive but thrive.

Reversing the current course of incivility is a challenge for our times. Until a rudeness vaccine is developed, we must dig into our civility tool kit. There are compelling reasons why we should. A life is not defined by a single act, and few of us will ever achieve national acclaim or perform deeds that change the course of history. However, there is a “greatness” in treating others with respect, compassion, kindness, and generosity. With this, we can make a difference in the lives of many.

Here are five tools:

1. Regardless of your age, make a habit of practicing kindness, generosity, and gratitude. Substantial research shows that people who regularly engage in those acts live longer, healthier, and happier lives. It’s never too late to start.

2. Nurture your social relationships, which, scientists say, have the capacity to generate our greatest happiness. Enrich your connections by balancing Internet contact with phone calls and face-to-face visits, which are more personal forms of communication.

3. Establish meaningful dialogue with medical providers, asserting your right to respectful and compassionate treatment. As a patient, you have the opportunity to evaluate hospital care; hospitals with extensive negative evaluations can lose Medicare subsidies.

4. Seize “teachable moments” with your children and grandchildren if you love them but not their behavior. Child development experts say we’re no longer teaching our kids manners–or respect and empathy for others. By contrast, a major study reported that social skills are a more accurate predictor of future success than test scores. So step up your game with your children and grandchildren. Enlighten your progeny about the importance of developing interpersonal skills and relationships by engaging them in conversations without small screens and buttons. That may be your enduring legacy.

5. Promote decency and decorum among elected officials. Hold them accountable for behavior during campaigns and, more importantly, once they’re in office. Urge civil discourse and bipartisanship to avoid gridlock. You and your country’s livelihood are at stake.

Given our sheer numbers as older people, we can have an impact on transformation. At the very least, we can set an example. It may take a generation to create a positive cultural shift, but we have to start somewhere. These are the seeds we can all plant. One at a time.

Reprinted with permission from the March 2012 AARP Bulletin. Copyright (c) 2012 AARP. All rights reserved. For more information, visit www.savingcivility.com.


9 Responses to “Why Civility Matters”

  1. Margie March 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    Speaking of civility – can I be one of your followers if I’m not demented?

    • oldspouse March 15, 2012 at 10:15 am #

      I suppose, Margie. But how do you know you’re not demented?

      • Margie March 15, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

        Of course I’m not demented. My delusion says so.

  2. abandonculture March 9, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    I agree, the practice of civility should be extended to the realm of politics.

    But this kind of talk inevitably leads to the next question…

    Should we extend basic *morality* to the realm of politics? (ie to the state)

    Good question, yes?

    • oldspouse March 15, 2012 at 10:16 am #

      Good question, indeed. But I think morality is such a judgment call when it comes to certain touchy issues that we should just start with civility for now. No?

      • abandonculture March 17, 2012 at 6:49 am #

        OK sure, but we could at least start by extending the most BASIC moral principals to the state such as ‘do not initiate force/ violence to get what you want’ and ‘respect people’s property rights’.

        After all, we teach this kind of basic morality to our children (“it’s wrong to hit and bully, it’s wrong to steal”). They are the basic moral principals on which all civilised societies are founded.

        We (the general public) accept the need to negotiate in a peaceful and voluntary way in our personal relationships, business transactions and in public. We understand that if we all used force, violence and coercion to get what we wanted society would break down immediately. This is why 99.9% of us reject such behaviour. It is not just immoral to initiate force or violence to get your way, it is not preferable either.

        How then can we possibly NOT extend these same basic moral principals to the state? If the state represent the people they must be on the same page in terms of basic morality! And if these most basic moral principals are universal, then the need to be applied universally! Where would we be technologically speaking if we didn’t feel the need to apply Newton or Einstein’s laws universally in science?

        We would never accept the idea of allowing one neighbourhood in a city to break this basic morality and be given the right to use fore or even violence against us. So why do we allow the state to do just this? Is this black hole in our reasoning a result of the fact that the state educates us for at least the first sixteen years of our lives? (educates us by force it must be said!)

        If we expect (and desire) this standard of moral behaviour for ourselves we must surely demand AT LEAST least the same level of moral virtue from the agency we charge with administrating and protecting society?!

        To NOT do so would create a massive power unbalance and by all logic put the general public in the most vulnerable position. without any basic moral imperative the state mechanism would be a magnet for the most immoral in society and the end result would inevitably be a nation drowning in chaos, corruption, debts, bankruptcy, wars, fear, violence, coercion, demoralisation and deceit.

        Isn’t that what we have? And haven’t I just explained precisely why it is so?

        If you were designing a society from scratch would you ever in your wildest dreams consider allowing just one agency to be legally exempt from adhering to these most basic moral principals and then place that agency at the very centre of society and in charge of just about everything?!

        What is civility without morality? It is the charm of a crooked salesman. It is the very definition of psychopathy.

  3. cgregory March 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    Yes, I’ll have another helping of civility, please.

  4. bestbathroombooks March 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    How can you argue with any of these pieces of advice? All are the result of rational thought.
    Ah, if we could just get the world to go along.

  5. The Discourse Pundit March 10, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    Amen! We desperately need a healthier, more civil public discourse.

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