Tag Archives: Society

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.