What ever happened to civility?
Let’s take a moment to contemplate why we have such venomous public and private verbal discourse in our life, religion and politics today. What ever happened to civility? Why is civil discussion on the decline in America? Our First Amendment right to free speech is being overshadowed by hate, fear, and desperation. Debate is manipulated by those with the most power or money.
It never used to be this bad. Sure, there have always been those who would win the debate at the cost of others. But, for most of us, winning was not as important as assuring that the common good was the highest priority. No matter what side of the issue you found yourself on, coming to some compromise with your opponent in any debate was always precluded with what was best for our people; our country.
So, what happened to change this? Today the mantra is to win at any cost. Don’t worry about the others, just make sure you protect yourself and get what you want. If you can’t win, make sure the other guy can’t either. Brinksmanship and going to the edge are common tactics used in our private and political lives. The political reality of the day is “the rewards go to the winner.” The more you win, the greater the rewards. Money and power rule. It’s a proven formula that civil discord gets the attention of the media. People tend to remember discord more than harmony. Acrimonious political attacks imprint on voters and work to change minds.
To combat incivility society must speak up whenever they witness uncivil and offensive behavior and language. Disturbing behavior must become unpopular. Society must demand civil behavior and reward those who promote it. Those who project discord as a means of winning must be denied victory at every turn. As citizens we must learn to speak up when the media uses discord to promote ratings or readership. We have a responsibility to the common good to ensure that misinformation is challenged wherever it occurs. We have our differences but we cannot let them define us. We must always work to find common ground that protects our society.
KRC Research in Washington D.C. has been measuring public civility in the United States since 2010. Their most recent survey was completed in April 2012. The poll queried 1,000 adults. Here are some of their findings:
- 81 percent of the respondents said incivility in government is harming the nation’s future.
- 63 percent believe there is a major civility problem in the United States.
- 55 percent expect civility to worsen, while 14 percent said it would improve. Comparatively, the 2010 survey showed 39 percent expected civility to worsen, while 26 percent believed it would get better.
As U.S. citizens we deserve better. But, unless we demand more civility in our lives, the media and in our political sphere we cannot expect change anytime soon.