The Coarsening of America

Ever since the Tucson shootings, we’ve heard about civility ad nauseum. Everyone has been calling for civility including the President at the memorial service in Tucson and during his State of the Union address.

We heard a lot about civility after 9/11 as well.  People were kinder to each other – more polite, more courteous.  I remember asking my husband, “how long do you think this will last?”  Not very long.  Eventually, people went back to their old ways and those who were kind and polite before 9/11 continued to be kind and polite.  Those who weren’t, couldn’t maintain the façade.

A very good example are the recent remarks by MSNBC’s Ed Schultz who called former Vice President Dick Cheney “an enemy of the country” who should go “to the Promised Land.”  In my world, wishing someone to be dead no matter how much you might dislike that person is uncivil.  Not according to actor-turned-someone-who-wants-to-appear-relevant-in-today’s-society, Richard Dreyfuss, who said Schultz’s remarks were not “uncivil” but rather “beautifully phrased civil discourse.”

So, if you’re a liberal, you can say whatever you want and it’s “beautifully phrased civil discourse,” but if you’re a conservative, you’re a hateful racist, homophobe, sexist, or whatever else liberals coin the label-of-the-day.

In any given week, they’ll be dozens of statements made by national media personalities and pundits which are downright rude, crude and hateful.  But over the years, I’ve seen the coarsening of human behavior in my personal dealings with others almost daily.

Not that long ago, you’d never hear someone drop the “F” bomb in public.  Now, waiting on line anywhere, it’s a common occurrence with no apology from the user even when your head snaps around to see who used that expletive in public.

It’s commonplace for people to invade my sense of privacy and peace and quiet by speaking loudly on their cell phones in public areas.  People will move forward in an airplane trying to get out earlier instead of waiting at their row to exit in an orderly fashion.

My husband and I have a continuing debate about all this.  I say people are “rude.”  He says they’re “just stupid.”  He says being rude requires a conscious recognition of one’s behavior.  Being rude means one doesn’t care about the needs of others.  Being stupid means the person is just oblivious to his surroundings.  I don’t know who’s right.  But does it really matter?

I live on a beautiful island in the Puget Sound.  There are the old timers who have lived here all their lives; there are people like us who have lived here almost twenty years, and then there are the newcomers.  The old timers are old; people like us are in their 50s and 60s, and a lot of the newcomers are in their forties.  It’s the forty-somethings I don’t get.

I could walk down the street and someone my age or older will pass me by and say “good morning.”  When I’m leaving a store, I’ll hold a door open for the old guy behind me and he’ll, no doubt, say, “thank you, young lady.”

Something happened to the people raised after my generation.  Perhaps they were raised in a barn or under a rock.  I’m not sure, but when I’m leaving a store and hold the door open for a younger person, I seldom will get a “thanks,” “thank you” or even a grunt to acknowledge my courtesy.

Several years ago, I decided I just can’t let this “incivility” go unchecked, so, I decided whenever I held a door open for someone, I’d wait a second, and if I received no response, I’d just say, “you’re welcome.”  Only one guy, who was on a cell phone and far too busy and far too important to initially say, “thank you,” actually seemed genuinely embarrassed when I said “you’re welcome.”  He immediately took the phone away from his ear and said, “you’re right, I’m sorry, thank you.”  Other than that one man, no one has ever acknowledged a simple courtesy with a reciprocal kindness of saying, “thank you.”   I can only imagine how little the fortysomethings have taught their own children and how that next generation will display their civility.

The internet has made us faceless and anonymous with people saying whatever they please without consequence.  Recently, after tweeting an article of mine to about six people who were interested in the topic I wrote about, I received the following tweet from someone to whom I didn’t send my article, “Stop Spamming stupid old bitch. Say something once and only once, What do you studder or something. Next time I report you.”  This is what I’m talking about.  (By the way, his punctuation and spelling, not mine.)

Unfortunately, no matter what President Obama suggests, I think we’ll continue to see incivility in the public arena.  It’s the nature of the beast.  But when I see the absence of any manners in the people I deal with in my private life, it all becomes very disturbing.

I don’t get it, but if you do, God bless you.

Author Bio:

For over twenty years, Leona has tried to heed her husband’s advice, “you don’t have to say everything you think.” She’s failed miserably. Licensed to practice law in California and Washington, she works exclusively in the area of child abuse and neglect. She considers herself a news junkie and writes about people and events on her website, “I Don’t Get It,” which she describes as the “musings of an almost 60-year old conservative woman on political, social and cultural life in America.” It’s not her intention to offend anyone who “gets it.” She just doesn’t. Originally from Brooklyn, and later Los Angeles, she now lives with her husband, Michael, on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest, which she describes as a bastion of liberalism.
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  • BDCombs

    I agree with Leona.   I don’t get it either.   Am curious as to what caused young people to become such pigs.   BDCombs

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  • Roger Ward

    Although I consider myself articulate, I don’t think I could have said it better than Konrad Lau and stmichrick did, in their responses. Those others responding also supported and/or amplified your thoughts quite ably.

    By the way, Ron, I listen to a lot of talk radio, both conservative and liberal. I can tell you that the shrill, accusatory, derogatory and openly hostile name calling comes mainly from the left. I’ve heard Obama called a Socialist and a lot more …. but most of the name calling directed against him was entirely defensible, as truth is an absolute defense. I’ve never heard Obama called a “fat-ass racist” or a “criminal war-monger” or a “loving-it torturer” as I have heard individual Conservatives called.

  • Clarence De Barrows

    Consideration, good manners and appreciation for the advantages this Country offers where, historically, all taught by the family during one’s formative years. A decline in the traditional family and the values it held in high regard is aways followed by a commensurate decline in the surrounding society.

  • Omega Grinde

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  • J.R. Whitehead

    Bernie, I totally agree with you! But, I am in my forties, and always say thank you! Even though most don’t….its a sad impersonal world its becoming….

  • stmichrick

    First of all; no one does pomposity better than Richard Dreyfuss. His recent public appearances only rival his portrayal of the psychiatrist in the movie, ‘What About Bob?’.

    Let’s not confuse incivility with confrontation of propaganda. For many years, ‘mainstream media’ professed certain assumptions or dogma that regular, mildly interested audiences accepted:

    Government is the answer to social and economic problems.
    Poverty causes crime.
    Gun control laws reduce crime.
    Lobbyists are bad (take note, AARP).
    Bipartisanship is the best answer.
    Democrats advocate the ‘working man;’ Republicans, ‘the rich.’
    Higher tax rates will increase revenue to the government.

    When these bromides and others are challenged in the ‘new media,’ the charge of incivility is often the defense. In fact, those who mourn the demise of the traditional broadcast network and print media, often try to de-legitimize the newer voices by accusing them of not being ‘real’ news.

    The truth is that anyone with an interest in current events and the future of the country needs to be a critical consumer of news and should find facts and verification from multiple sources. They need to take issue with the substance of what is said or written, not the fact that it was said or written.

    As to the charge that saying liberals are trying to ruin America is uncivil, OK, how’s this? Liberals are trying to change America, using the tactics and observations of our enemies, into something with the characteristics of failed societies in history. How’s that for civil?

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  • Ron

    I am not sure the left has a monopoly on uncivil political speach. People on the right have no problem questioning the left’s patriotism and accusing the left of deliberately trying to harm the country. How many different names has President Obama been called on talk radio? I stopped listening to talk radio and political television because of the lack of civility and shouting. In general it seems to me that there is a general lack of civility in society. I wonder if it is somehow caused by a greater density of people. Too many people crowded into too small of space. I encounter the most uncivility on freeways. When I visited an aunt in Nebraska, I commented that I was surprised by the lack of privacy fences in back yards. She said that they trusted their neighbors to not be intrusive. The first thing that goes up in a new housing development today in California is privacy walls. On the other hand, last night we went to a play at a religious college near us. We did not encounter one rude person. We usually do not encounter any rude people at Church. Maybe people have always been rude but we have more interaction today.

  • Konrad Lau

    I see the coarsening of society a result of school perpetuated, inflated self worth or a sense of unwarranted self esteem combined with an unwillingness to make discernment between right and wrong attitudes and behaviors.

    I too am of another generation. You can call me quaint or old fashioned but when I was growing up a person gained a sense of pride from accomplishment…not just from breathing the atmosphere. When children are continually told they are “special” for no apparent reason beginning in preschool and reinforced throughout their indoctrination (excuse me, I really meant to say education), the self important attitude naturally carries over into adulthood. As long as our children are basted with an entitlement mentality the results will always be the same: people expecting respect without understanding it is to be earned and not given and at the same time not understanding how to give the same.

    • Mattie

      How refreshing it is to have read your comment. I am going to make a wallet sized ..copy and show it to everyone I know