The following excerpt comes from a New York Times article that appeared today:
“The focus group that met here in New Jersey on Monday included a bartender, a lawyer and a school bus driver. The dominant theme of the discussion, in which jobs and taxes came up only in passing, seemed to be the larger breakdown of civil society — the disappearance of common courtesy, the relentless stream of data from digital devices, the proliferation of lawsuits and the insidious influence of media on their children.
One woman described a food fight at the middle school that left a mess school employees were obliged to clean up, presumably because the children couldn’t be subjected to physical labor. A man complained about drivers who had grown increasingly hostile and inconsiderate on the roads…’“
I already touched upon this in an earlier post (I’ve become that grumpy old man…), but I am in complete agreement that we are witnessing (and I am sure our parents and grand parents and great great grand parents did too) a larger breakdown of civil society. As a New Yorker I understand that the hustle and bustle of city life can make you curt and sometimes even rude and snippy, but uncivil is something that I see snowballing out of control even across the river (and not just in New Jersey… I know, I know that was a cheap shot!). I am not excluding myself from this general meltdown in how we behave. I have had my share of inglorious moments (cursing at people who cut me off, blood boiling at incompetence, overreacting at someone bumping into my kid or the stroller etc.), but I believe that I have always been civil. I get up on the bus and train for the elderly or pregnant, I hold doors, I hold elevators, I say “Thank you”, “Excuse me” and “Please”. I carry strollers up stairs for moms. I even on occasion say “I’m sorry”. The most important thing, though, is that I feel guilty if I do not. If I bump into someone on the street and it’s my fault or I drop a wrapper on the floor and don’t stoop to pick it up I actually feel bad. I don’t tear my hair out, but I still have that momentary “That was just wrong!” moment. That does not excuse my incivility, but remorse is a start. You assume some degree of responsibility for your actions. In most cases the twang of guilt will push me to act and correct or in some way redeem my uncivil act.
My examples are just small blips on a much greater map of actions that people choose to ignore, abuse, overlook or intentionally undertake that make our society that much worse (and the digital deluge merits a completely separate post and discussion).
The example that really caught my attention was the woman who says that a food fight at school was cleaned up by staff. I can understand parents do not want corporal punishment used on their kids, but are we really afraid to force kids to face consequences and take on the responsibility of their actions. Maybe I’m just getting old and my son’s incessant use of the word “No” is getting to me, but if parents fail to teach their kids about being civil and schools are too scared of lawyers to do so then I am afraid we will maintain this downward spiral. Then again maybe I’m just overreacting to a few isolated incidents of insolence. Now go write that on a chalkboard 100 times.