The Duncan Banner

November 17, 2013

Civility starts with remembering good manners

Jeff Kaley
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — While pondering a growing lack of civility in American culture, during the column-writing process I had a reoccurring thought: You know, big boy, you’re painting this picture with a pretty broad brush.

And that’s true. While discussing the Age of Angst and what I perceive as a continuing cultural drift toward incivility in the public forum and among individuals, I do so in generalities.

So, let me add this caveat: I believe a majority of Americans still practice good manners, still feel other people should be treated with kindness and civility. Most of us — even some TV and radio talk show hosts and politicians — can discuss and debate without screaming, and we do show some respect for the ideas of others.

Our society has not slipped completely into uncivil anarchy and chaotic disrespect.

Still, a growing number of us who’ve lived for a while tend to agree the last couple decades are marked by a rise in expressions of public and private anger. There’s been an increase in incendiary language and actions, and a decline in some of the basic traits of civility that lead to people getting along with one another.

How we got to this point is a debate in itself.

Some blame 24-hour TV news channels that must fill programming hours. Some blame deregulation of FCC standards that opened the TV and radio airways to provocative potty-mouths like Howard Stern or political demagogues on the right and the left, who use umbrage and inflammatory language to push an agenda under the guise of “entertainment.”

Some blame the turbulent 1960s, when the cracks of division in our society turned into angry chasms. Some blame pop culture that seems to perpetually stretch the boundaries of propriety in a mad dash to one-up itself. Some blame technology and the Internet.

Some blame a pulling away from organized religion. Some blame what they see as oppression from organized religion.

Some blame political polarization. Some blame economics and a widening gap between them that have and them that don’t have.

Some blame poor parenting. Some blame a failure of our education system.

Painting with a broad brush once again, it’s probable these and other factors are at play in a society that seems to become more uncivil by the hour.

So, how do we slow this progression toward becoming a shallow, hurtful, in-your-face society?

Dr. P.M. Forni, whose books Choosing Civility and The Civility Solution got me rambling on this subject in the first place, suggests we begin by changing how we treat one another on the interpersonal level.

While composing The Civility Solution, Forni surveyed people about what bothers them most, and came up with what he calls “The Terrible 10” situations that bring out anger in people:

1.    Discriminating in an employment situation.

2.    Driving in an erratic or aggressive way that endangers others.

3.    Taking credit for someone else’s work.

4.    Treating service providers as inferiors.

5.    Making jokes or remarks that mock someone’s race, gender, age, disability, sexual preference or religion.

6.    Children behaving aggressively toward other children or bullying them.

7.    Littering (including trash, spit and pet waste).

8.    Misusing handicapped privileges.

9.    Smoking in nonsmoking places or smoking in front of nonsmokers without first asking.

10.    Using cell phones or text messaging during conversations or during an appointment or meeting.

You and I can probably come up with 10 or 20 more acts of rudeness that help put us in a foul mood and can have an impact on how we treat others. At the same time, most of “The Terrible 10” seem just to be breeches in the teaching of manners and etiquette a lot of us experienced as kids.

It may be difficult to equate them to the larger picture of a society-wide decline in civility. But if we’re ever going to come out of the Age of Angst, giving attention to seemingly small, interpersonal acts of incivility can get us back on the road to getting along with one another.