The Death of Civility and Respect

The events of last week have left many people asking the questions. What the hell is wrong with our country? Has everybody gone crazy? What happened to civil discord? Honest debate? Respect for others?

The truth is we got rid of it, killed it and eliminated it from our values and lives. Every single one of us has some responsibility for what is going on in our country today, and I’m not referring to just last week.

  • It began years ago when we abdicated our responsibilities of parenting to the schools.
  • When we let our children believe their feelings were more important than following the rules (including in our own household), or how to navigate conflict.
  • When we taught our children to envy rather than lose graciously or work for what they wanted.
  • When we taught them, life has to be fair.
  • When we failed to teach the subtle nuances of conversation and communication.
  • When we gave ourselves, and our families over to Apple, Samsung, Alexa, Facebook, Instagram, and on it goes.
  • When we stopped talking and started texting, which has progressed to expressing ourselves through emoji.
  • When we failed to teach them respect for others; instead, teaching them (often by example) the way to get ahead or win the argument was to attach labels to people and discredit them.
  • When we failed to educate them on the history of our country, the process of governing, the Constitution, or how to make their voices heard (voting).
  • We’ve failed to share with our kids the lessons we’ve learned as a nation and how life is better for everyone (and, yes it is better).
  • When where our children went to school became more important than education.
  • When we taught our children to talk back to other adults or us (because they had a right to be heard).
  • When we allowed them to disrespect teachers, officers, and other authority figures.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Yes, every single one of us bears some responsibility for what’s happening to us as people and as a country.

No doubt some of you reading this are already seeing red, and typing a response before you finish this article. That woman has some nerve! Stupid; she must be a conservative or Trump supporter, and then the labels come out. If so, you’re proving my point.

Labels

Labels are about selling a product, idea, viewpoint, theology, or philosophy. Of course, some labels are innocent and helpful; we seek out our preferred products every day based on a label. But, make no mistake about it — labels are about persuasion and power and those who throw them around like confetti want power. They want to be right, to win whatever might be at stake and when it’s advantageous we use labels like a weapon, and it’s been that way forever. That applies in particular to our broken political system where every politician is out for him or herself and will do anything to stay in power. They are some of the worse at name-calling.

The labels thrown around most often these days are not about products or services, but people, institutions, authority, and the rule of law. Labels like Homophobic, transphobic, racist, bigot, crazy, unstable, white supremacist, black power, alt-right, alt-left, feminist, stupid, and incompetent are thrown around and attached to anyone who is perceived to be on the wrong side. These labels have one purpose and one purpose only — to shut down any and all conversation, debate, or differing opinions.

We pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to send our kids to college where they learn, among other things, the freedom of expression. As parents, we hope our money is well invested and that our children will grow into mature, contributing adults. Then we watch in silent approval as they protest behind the cover of black masks, destroy buildings, set fires to deny those same rights to free speech to another. Instead of teaching them how to debate, or more importantly how to listen, these colleges build safe places, so our children won’t ever have to deal with a dissenting view or feel uncomfortable.

We laugh as actors demean and disrespect our leaders. Teach our children, by example or silence, that it’s okay to denigrate our President and other leaders. We turn our heads as the rule of law is thwarted, and we hold no one accountable. In fact, we try to justify lawlessness as activism. We are doing our children and country a disservice when we thumb our noses at authority.

As parents, we decry bullying in our schools and start programs to combat the epidemic. While at the same time we’re busy bullying others into submission, isolation or conflict. We label those who disagree with horrible, ugly names, shame them and shout them into silence then cry foul when the world tips on its axis and people clash, sometimes violently.

When that happens, everyone suddenly retreats and starts calling for civility and calm. Our politicians get out front and center of the public faster than we can change a channel and condemn whatever the situation. They want to make sure we know they had nothing to do with anything. Like children, we point our fingers at each other and act as if we can see into the hearts and minds of our opponents. It was someone else who caused this horrible thing. We act as if we were innocent bystanders all along We are not.

So, when you ask where civil conversation and respect has gone, look in the mirror, we are all responsible. We are the ones who eliminated it from our lives.

In 1938, Mrs. Cornelius Beeckman wrote:

“No matter what our circumstance, whether we are rich or poor, whether we live our lives in comfort and leisure or in days of confining and difficult work, we must decide whether we will live our lives with a gracious spirit or an ungracious one.” Etiquette Up to Date

If we want to change things, it begins with us. We must stop attaching ugly labels to people with whom we disagree; learn to speak with respect and debate with facts rather than emotions. We must put our electronic devices down and start talking, communicate face-to-face, and listen more than we talk. Instead of tearing each other down, we must lift each other up, including our President. If our leaders fail, we all lose.

To do anything else is a perpetuation of a nation divided and it will destroy us. History tends to repeat itself, but it doesn’t have to. As Maya Angelou said,

“I did then what I knew then; when I knew better, I did better.”

We’re all in this together. Let’s work to do better. Let us choose to live with a gracious spirit.