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Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Death of Civility?

The Today Show aired an interesting segment recently based on a new book by Jane Jacobs titled The Death of Civility.

Have we completely morphed into a society without minimal, common courtesies? An era in which strangers who accidentally bump shoulders in a crowd snarl at each other? Where soccer moms and dads yell obscenities at the refs and other players and get into fistfights with each other? Where frustrated motorists scream vulgarities at other drivers and sometimes shoot them?

Take a look at recent headlines and you’ll answer “yes” to all of the above. Where did we go wrong? Who forgot to teach their children the magic of “please” and “thank you”? When did children forget to learn to share? How did we as a society allow violence and hatred to permeate our culture?

If you follow the link below to the Today Show, you’ll see a comment in which a reader asserts that today we’re all too stressed and in too much of a hurry to be civil. What a load of bunk! (Oh, was that not civil?) Taking a very few seconds for even the most basic elements of civility can lessen stress. Back to the shoulder-bump example. A quick smile and “excuse me” takes one second and allows the bump to become a non-incident. A response of “you #*$@^” just elevates both parties’ blood pressure and sets them up to growl at the next person. This is so obvious and basic that I can’t believe it’s even a topic of conversation.

I remember in the third grade I had a buddy at school named Terry B. He was walking home with me one day and we were going to play in my yard. But, first, I would need to take him inside, introduce him to my father and receive my father’s permission for Terry to stay and play for a while. The closer we got to the house, the more nervous I became. I knew from experience at school that Terry did not have the manners that were expected in our household. Finally, as I was about to open the front door, I turned to Terry and told him that he must say please, thank you, yes and no sir, and yes and no ma’am or I would not be allowed to play with him. Third grade. My parents taught me well.

Those are the small gestures that I believe – or hope – can serve as a foundation for larger acts of civil behavior. There weren’t always riots after sporting events. Young people didn’t always gang up and beat the odd kid in school. But then, my life motto is “I live in hope.” I politely avoid being disillusioned.

Check out the links below. Are we really doomed to become an angry, snarling society? Or can we elevate the importance of kindness? Tell me what you think.

Today Show -
Book review:

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