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Published September 09, 2011, 12:00 AM

Val Farmer: Incivility now common in public places, media

Whatever happened to respect and civility in public life? Every day we are confronted with rudeness and coarseness that tell us decency and consideration for others is declining.

By: By Val Farmer, INFORUM

Whatever happened to respect and civility in public life? Every day we are confronted with rudeness and coarseness that tell us decency and consideration for others is declining.

Even worse, mindless public mayhem, looting and mob violence by middle-class youths and young adults have shocked authorities and citizens of Vancouver, Canada and Great Britain. Flash mobs specifically organized through social media for the purpose of looting have created chaos and violence in such U.S. cities as Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Washington D.C.

Call-in talk shows are filled with political bashing. Rabid fans in public stadiums rain profanity on referees and opposing players. Violence spills over into the stands and after the contests as rabid fans confront others in the colors of the opposite team.

Athletes throw disgraceful temper tantrums when officials rule against them. School administrators and teachers complain about the lack of respect students have for them as adults and authority figures as well as for each other.

Drivers cut each other off and retaliate with menacing driving and obscene gestures. People jockey to gain unfair position in lines at stores and entertainment events. The elderly no longer feel treated with dignity and respect. Bureaucrats can be grumpy and insensitive. Competition among professionals erodes collegiality.

Television shows and movies routinely show edgy characters with an “in-your-face” attitude and a willingness to break the rules. Sarcasm, cynicism and put-down humor are staples of TV sitcoms. Egos preen as respected talk-show commentators interrupt each other and don’t allow each other to finish their thoughts.

Have I hit enough hot buttons?

What is the cause and what is the solution? One factor is the decline of manners and civility. Manners and civility are society’s common language of behavior. Manners help protect the dignity of everyone, especially society’s less powerful members.

Good manners are a form of morality. Manners may not be as important as moral courage and standing up for justice and fairness, but manners show morality in the everyday events of life. They are signs of a willingness to take the feelings and welfare of others into consideration by our small actions as well as our big ones.

Manners imply order, compassion, respect, courtesy and consideration. Good manners require paying attention to what situation you are in and going by the rules. Tradition counts. Manners prevent big problems by small actions.

The public is winning a few battles. Smokers are forced to consider the rights of nonsmokers. Public sensitivity to littering and the environment is increasing.

Why the decline in manners? There are many answers. It could be the rise of permissive parenting and the lack of teaching mutual respect in the home. It could be the lack of respect parents show children, which translates to aggressive behavior with their peers and in the public.

It could be the corrosive modeling of violence, aggression and profane dialogue in our popular media and music. It could be the rise of selfishness and individuality in our society, where there is less emphasis on the concerns for the feelings of others and community life. It could be a reflection of how self-important we feel we are and how our own needs are paramount over others.

It could be that the time-crunched lives we lead and the hurry we are in to do too much leaves little time at the margins to pay attention to the needs of those around us. It could be the super-competitive and materialistic environment we are in promotes a “me first” attitude to get what we need or what we have been taught to want.

It could be overcrowding in cities where people’s more loutish behavior can be expressed in anonymity. It could be mob psychology overwhelming personal morality.

What can be done? Personally, we can individually be examples of concern, kindness and respect in society. If we all made it a point to be more considerate, it would improve the social environment as surely as not littering improves the physical environment.

The concept of random acts of kindness is appealing. The good we do multiplies as others follow our lead. A smile is contagious. Please, thank you and other expressions of appreciation and concern give a needed lift to a world too short on kindness. We can unclutter and slow down our lives enough so we can be aware of the needs of people around us.

Schools and churches. Besides filling their role in educating children, schools need to teach respect for authority and fellow students as a basic right. Church attendance and family worship make a huge difference in promoting moral behavior.

A teenager who learns polite language and has good manners with adults creates favorable impressions in interviews for jobs and school applications. They also have learned the basics for having good friendships, marriages and pleasant relationships in the workplace.

Most of all, it starts at home. Parents need to be loving and respectful of each other and their children. Children learn respect for authority in the home. Training a child in manners, morality, respect, and concern for others starts in late infancy and is an unending job until they are age 18 and beyond.


Val Farmer is a clinical psychologist in Wildwood, Mo.

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