Friday, September 18, 2009

What HAS Happened to Civility?

This week USA Today asked, “What happened to civility?” In recent days, a congressman has disrupted a speech on health care reform by President Obama, calling him a “liar”; a rapper interrupted an award acceptance speech by a country-western singer because he disagreed with the choice; and two tennis stars berated match officials with expletive-laced tirades.

But the issue goes beyond such public moments. We live in an age when apparently if you disagree with someone, you have the right to shout them down. In workplaces we have lost our sense of politeness. If two people are meeting, we barge into their conversation because we are too impatient to wait our turn.

One person suggested the reason for growing rudeness and hostility in our society is because of a pervasive sense that “we don’t have power or even any say-so in what’s going on.” This may be true, but still doesn’t license us to adopt an “it’s all about me” attitude in daily interactions with others.

Perhaps it dates back to the 1960s, when many in my generation adopted the mantra, “Question authority!” To an extent, I agree with that – having a position of authority does not ensure being correct. But there are more appropriate, more civil ways of getting our point across.

Even if you disagree with some of Barack Obama’s views, doesn’t the office of President of the United States still deserve respect? Don’t award recipients deserve their moment? Don’t people in a work meeting deserve an opportunity to conclude their business before we butt in?

It goes back to the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), also known as “the ethic of reciprocity.” How can we expect respect from others unless we insist on giving it to others?

No comments: