Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH God):

The Bob Livingston Letter EXTRA

The Death of Civility in America

Maybe it's not too late to regain the grace and dignity of good manners in this country, though hopes dim with each passing day that we remain on the present churlish course. The road to recovery starts with each of us individually, in how we conduct our own affairs and social interactions -- both to resist the strong temptation to lash out viciously at those who vex us and to restrain the urge to respond in kind to encounters with manners-impaired louts.

by Bob Livingston, Editor

"When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency," wrote 18th century British author Samuel Johnson. I hope he was wrong. If he was right, America is in big trouble.

These days, civility is violated routinely and regularly across the spectrum of American life. Boorish behavior is not only tolerated but celebrated. Good manners are mocked as "uncool." If civility is not dead in America, it's on life support in intensive care.

One need look no further than Washington for gross manifestations of ill-mannered incivility. The nation's so-called "leaders" chose to shut down the Federal government in a coarse display of antagonism rather than seek respectful compromise on the Nation's budget.

But incivility is not the exclusive province of politicians. Rock stars, sports stars, movie and TV stars, talk show hosts, cable TV commentators, activists, labor unions, bosses, office workers, parents, educators, motorists, church leaders, schoolchildren... well, pretty much everyone in the country at some time or another has become caught up in the "in your face" aggressive rudeness that increasingly characterizes the national persona. The modern phenomenon of social media with its veneer of anonymity provides fertile turf for cyber-bullying and the most bilious "flaming" slanders.

Pier M. Forni, author of The Civility Solution: What to Do When People are Rude and director of The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has said, "In today's America, incivility is on prominent display: in the schools, where bullying is pervasive; in the workplace, where an increasing number are more stressed out by coworkers than their jobs; on the roads, where road rage maims and kills; in politics, where strident intolerance takes the place of earnest dialogue; and on the Web, where many check their inhibitions at the digital door."

It's not just a matter of some ivory tower intellectual clucking tsk-tsk in rebuke to a naughty public. We know we're behaving badly. The numbers bear it out. In poll after poll, Americans say incivility is bad and getting worse. And we're not happy about the way we're acting.

A poll by Weber Shandwick revealed that 65 percent of Americans say the lack of civility is a major problem that has worsened during the financial crisis and recession, and nearly 50 percent of those surveyed said they were withdrawing from the basic tenets of democracy -- government and politics -- because of incivility and bullying.

A 2007 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 37 percent of workers said they had been bullied at work, though 40 percent of these bullying victims never reported it. Of those who did file complaints, 62 percent said their complaints were ignored.

A Civility in America survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted by KRC Research in 2011 showed these results:

86 percent of Americans reported having been victims of incivility.

72 percent encountered rude or disrespectful behavior while driving and 65 percent while shopping.

59 percent acknowledged that they have themselves been uncivil.

50 percent of American parents say their children have experienced incivility at school.

11 percent of parents said they have sent their children to a different school because of problems with incivility.

45 percent of Americans 20 years and older say they'd be afraid to be teenagers today because of incivility among that group.

69 percent of Americans have either stopped buying from a company or changed their opinion of it because of uncivil interaction with an employee.

58 percent have advised friends, family or co-workers not to buy certain products because of rude behavior by a company or its employees.

69 percent believe cyber bullying is getting worse.

72 percent worry about their children being bullied online.

This year, the annual survey by Civility in America produced these eye-openers:

95 percent of the survey respondents believe we have a civility problem in this country.

81 percent believe incivility is leading to more violence.

33 percent believe the tone of their workplace is uncivil.

26 percent quit their job because of incivility at work.

Pam Jenkins, president of Powell Tate and co-sponsor of the study, says

"incivility is turning into a national epidemic. When seven out of 10 citizens report that incivility has reached crisis proportions in this country, you know that we need new solutions and greater leadership accountability. We may have reached the tipping point."

Why have we become a Nation of unpleasant boors? Pier Forni says it's because we're stressed and insecure: "The weak economy, [recent] wars going on, the threat of terrorism, the hostile political environment, the two major parties warring with one another and exchanging salvos that are not very civil -- these are not the most pleasant or stress-free of times," says Forni. "When we are stressed, we are less likely to be considerate and kind to others. We retire, retreat into the citadel of ourselves and we shut the door. We are more prone to anger. We are less tolerant of the mistakes of others."

Forni says feeling insecure makes the problem even worse: "When we are insecure or not sure of ourselves for whatever the reason because the economy is bad, or we think we are going to lose our jobs...very often we shift the burden of that insecurity upon others in the form of hostility," he says. "It is the kick-the-dog syndrome. You make an innocent pay for how badly you feel in order to find some kind of relief."

There's a practical impact of incivility besides just making us feel uneasy about it. DiversityInc.com cites Forni's observations on some of the real consequences of incivility:

Students who are bullied and/or cyber-bullied face increased risk for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide attempts.

Studies have shown that protracted exposure to stress caused by living in an uncivil environment lowers morale and increases the chances of developing coronary heart disease and other illnesses.

The American Psychological Association has estimated that workplace stress (considering absenteeism, loss of productivity, medical expenses and turnover) costs U.S. businesses about $300 billion a year. The Department of Labor reports that there are about 1.8 million acts of physical violence in the American workplace in any given year.

I think Forni falls short of getting to the real core of the problem. Stress and insecurity certainly aggravate the condition, but I see the deep polarization of American opinion on virtually every major issue as magnifying the flashpoints of contention to the temper-bursting point. Extremist points of view on both the right and left leave no room for tolerance and compromise with the opposite view.

"We are losing sight of civility in government and politics," says former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey. "Debate and dialogue is taking a back seat to the politics of destruction and anger and control. Dogma has replaced thoughtful discussion between people of differing views." I see the decline of the social-molding influence of family, school, church and public institutions as depriving society of its moral compass.

I see informality and familiarity (calling people we just met by their first names, for example) breeding contempt that often crosses the line into incivility. I see the glorification (not just the depiction) of violence and vulgarity in the media and entertainment, in sports, in computer games as the desensitizing agent that allows us to tolerate and even embrace tasteless behavior as acceptable.

An op-ed letter by Frank Williams in the Chicago Tribune summed it up on the nose:

"America has lost its civility. Athletes don't respect officials. Politicians don't respect our nation's highest offices. And the American people seem to have lost respect for one another and, to a degree, even themselves. Many people have opined on the cause for the loss of civility in our culture; some say the removal of prayer from public schools and teachers stripped of the authority to discipline are the causes. Still others lay the blame squarely at the feet of public officials and law enforcement. Interestingly none of us seems to blame ourselves, not even for our own anti-social behavior.

 "Sports fans justify booing and taunting by pointing to the high prices they pay for admission, which they feel buys them the right to be rude, offensive and, in some cases, almost criminal in their behavior. Athletes, for their part, defend their violent forays into the stands as a legitimate defense of their honor against uncalled for abuse rained on them by fans.

"One thing is certain, they're all wrong, at least from the standpoint that they have a civic obligation to be civil, because we all share this country. Few people seem to understand the courage and virtue that is exhibited when we turn the other cheek."

Maybe it's not too late to regain the grace and dignity of good manners in this country, though hopes dim with each passing day that we remain on the present churlish course. The road to recovery starts with each of us individually, in how we conduct our own affairs and social interactions -- both to resist the strong temptation to lash out viciously at those who vex us and to restrain the urge to respond in kind to encounters with manners-impaired louts.

I like the guidance of respected news icon Ted Koppel, former host of "Nightline": "Aspire to decency. Practice civility toward one another. Admire and emulate ethical behavior wherever you find it. Apply a rigid standard of morality to your lives; and if, periodically, you fail -- as you surely will -- adjust your lives, not the standards."

The best advice of all on this matter, I think, comes from wise old Benjamin Franklin, who counseled citizens to: "Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none."

 

Hope of Israel Ministries -- Proclaiming the Good News of the Soon-Coming Kingdom of YEHOVAH God Here On This Earth!

Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.
www.hope-of-israel.org

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