Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lack of Civility Gives Us Something To Talk About

Anyone with an ear half open to D.C. politics is aware that Representative Wilson behaved badly when he shouted “You lie!” during a recent speech by President Obama earlier this month. What most people do not comment on, because we forget our history, is that Representative Wilson was not the first congressman from South Carolina to behave badly on the floor of Congress.

In May 1856 South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks demonstrated less than model behavior by assaulting Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with a cane while he sat in the Senate Chamber. The beating was so severe that Sumner was blinded by his own blood and passed out whereupon the South Carolina representative continued to beat him.

When the Wilson story first broke what got my attention was the implication that this, rude behavior, was something new. In the back of my mind there is a U.S. News and World Report article from the 1980’s about America’s “epidemic of rudeness.” If you do a Google search on the phrase “epidemic of rudeness” you’ll find 354,000 web pages on the topic.

One editorial on Wilson’s behavior seemed to justify it by saying the Democrats did it, too, when they booed remarks by President Bush during a speech in 2005. Since when is my bad behavior justified because someone else behaved badly?

There were so many good articles on this topic that I wanted to cite, but will limit it to two. The first is from a website assembled by the Rude Busters.

Let’s face it: the Golden Rule is tarnished...
Common courtesy doesn’t exist anymore. Civility, manners, and politeness are nostalgic memories. We’re more mean-spirited than ever.


At concerts, in the air, in supermarkets, in business dealings, at sporting events, everywhere, people are selfish, angry, rude and crude (doctors are even being cited for rudeness in malpractice suits). And former President Clinton convened the National Commission on Civic Renewal, after citing a “toxic atmosphere of cynicism" back in 1997.

The media has been taking notice of our bad manners and bad attitudes and some of the statistics, insights and suggestions are politely offered here for you to access:

In a July 18, 2000 report, researchers confirm we’re in the midst of an anger and rudeness epidemic. “Going postal” – there’s even a catchphrase for our hostility and uncivil behavior. This USA Today piece by Karen S. Peterson helps us understand what contributes to today’s short tempers....

Reuben Navarette, Jr. in a CNN commentary wrote:

There are many people out there, in all walks of life, who think they're more significant than they really are. Plagued with an exaggerated sense of self-importance, they feel entitled to do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it no matter whom it hurts.

The self-centered rarely think about the consequences because they're too busy claiming what they see as their rightful place in the spotlight. And when they're criticized for letting their narcissism get the best of them and face the wrath of their colleagues or the disapproval of their fans, they might apologize. But, even then, they often don't do a very good job of it because their heart's not in it.


Dylan's lines from his song License to Kill (Infidels, 1983) reference this pervasive narcissism.

"Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled
Oh, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way."


And his later Oh Mercy album likewise reiterates the theme with a song titled "The Disease of Conceit." This is at the root of our bad behavior.

What I like about the Rude Busters article cited above is that instead of just pointing fingers at culprits out in the public square they bring it back down to our own level. I can't change what Joe Wilson did or even how he behaves tomorrow, but I can own what I say and do today in my own sphere.

Rudeness takes many forms. And many people practice downright rudeness daily. So here’s something to keep in mind: a rude encounter is remembered for a lifetime. Let’s think about how we want to be remembered -- and maybe try to be worth remembering.
I agree.

1 comment:

LEWagner said...

"Whitewashed sepulchres."
"Hypocrites."
"Viper's brood."
Sorry, not from Dylan, but from someone else I'm sure you recognize by his civil tone of voice. (sarcasm)
And many more in similar vein, when he was faced with out-and-out lying hypocrisy, as he so often was.
Maybe you can point out where the importance of "civility" is even mentioned in the Bible, the book you say is God's Word Revealed? I can't think of anywhere.
But anyway, when I see the murderous foreign policy of George Bush and the neocons called "awkward" and "muscular", instead of "murderous" and "criminal", I have no more desire to be civil with the writer of such crap, than I would with someone euphemizing German foreign policy prior to the break-out of WWII.
Back in that day, the Germans all agreed with each other too, with nice smiles and salutes. Failure to keep smiling and agreeing, and talking back instead, were actually crimes, not just criticized as "narcissism".
The chickens are coming home to roost, though. You've chosen the "safe" side in the coming conflict, but not the moral side.
Good luck.