Jan 8, 2002 9:18 AM
|The death of decency
By MATT SCHUDEL
It's the first thing many of us notice when we move to South Florida. Not the heat, the humidity or the hurricanes. We expect those things. What we don't expect amid swaying palms and balmy beaches is how much ruder life here can be compared to wherever we came from. We ask friends and co-workers coming back from vacation, "How was the trip?" And, for an hour, we hear how much nicer the folks are, say, up in Michigan or North Carolina or even New York City.
With selfish, rude and downright mean behavior sweeping civility under the carpet generally in this country, Staff Writer Matt Schudel examined the problem plaguing Florida -- and all of society -- in this cover story. His essay, subsequently reprinted by our sister paper, The Orlando Sentinel's Florida magazine, prompted hundreds of letters, calls and e-mails statewide from readers weary of rudeness on the road, in business, in popular culture. Teachers called to request reprints of the article to share with their students. Radio talk shows picked up the topic. "The article should be required reading for all students, grade school, high school and college," wrote one reader in Deerfield Beach. "It should be required reading for all citizens of this country." Did a kinder, gentler South Florida come out of the essay? We continue to hope.
Many ordinary, law-abiding drivers are seized by a cold, silent panic whenever they look up and see a truck or SUV filling the entire width of the rear-view mirror. There's something menacing about these high-riding vehicles, and the arrogant, cell-phone-yakking road warriors behind the wheel know it. They honk if you dont turn right on red, they push you faster than you want to go, they ride your bumper until you move aside. Then, as they speed on past, they flip you the finger.
It's the sign of our times.
But it's not just trucks that are the problem, and it's not just traffic. A mean-spirited selfishness has taken hold of our culture, and it wont let go. It finds its purest voice in the Spanish expression Viva yo! long live me.
It's my world, so get out of my way.
Even if their numbers are small, those selfish louts with their big cars, loud voices and bad manners will continue to make our lives miserable for one simple reason: There's nothing we can do about it. The old values of courtesy, politeness and respect have been trampled under.
The indignities of the road are compounded with further indignities at work, at the movies, on the radio, from the profane mouths of strangers, in battles between neighbors. Pretty soon you've got more than a headache. You've got a national crisis on your hands.
THE DICTIONARY defines incivility "as a lack of courtesy or politeness. " Once you're aware of it, you see it everywhere. It's practically the defining ethos of modern life. It has become so pervasive that, according to a 1996 poll for U.S. News & World Report, 89 percent of all Americans consider incivility a serious problem in our society. More than three-quarters of all Americans believe it has gotten worse in the last 10 years.
Incivility is the root of some of the most pernicious problems in our culture. Perceived slights on the street dissing, or the showing of disrespect have led to murder. In Brooklyn a teen-ager was shot to death when he didn't greet a second teen-ager with a high five. A young man was beaten and stabbed in a grocery store in suburban Bethesda, Md., when he complained to two men cutting ahead in the checkout line.
But incivility is in the corporate board room, as well, with hired-gun CEOs taking home million-dollar bonuses while putting people out of work. Its in the halls of Congress, where public servants defy decorum to berate the president and their colleagues. Its a problem with doctors, who are often cited for rudeness in malpractice suits.
We suffer through incivility in the form of talking and excessive rustling in movie theaters and concert halls. Renowned classical musicians Sir Georg Solti, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Jessye Norman have interrupted performances to admonish their audiences on proper concert conduct.
Incivility is in the lyrics of the music we or at least the young listen to. It's in every home disturbed by domestic violence. It's in stores where clerks don't say "thank you." It's on bumper stickers that read "My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student" as if parents were proud of raising a generation of thugs.
Its a serious thing, then, incivility. This open, dirty secret of American life is beginning to prompt some deep thinking. President Clinton, citing a "toxic atmosphere of cynicism" - and perhaps stung by attacks on his own character - has convened the National Commission on Civic Renewal, headed by former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and onetime Republican Cabinet member William J. Bennett. At least three other commissions, led by nationally prominent political figures Lamar Alexander, Bill Bradley and Patricia Schroeder, are dedicated to civic and cultural renewal.
No one can say why weve become such an uncivil society, but there are plenty of theories. In For Shame: The Loss of Common Decency in American Culture, James Twitchell, a professor at the University of Florida, links incivility with a lack of public shame and private responsibility. His chief culprit? Television advertising.
Another scholar, Nicholas Mills of Sarah Lawrence College in New York, attributes the "triumph of meanness" to the huge income disparity between average workers and corporate big shots.
Carol Tavris, a Los Angeles psychologist and expert on anger, says incivility has grown worse because Americans blow up too easily.
"It's not that people are any angrier than they ever were," Tavris has said. "The problem is that we let people get away with it. We celebrate aggressiveness."
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay called "On Manners," and Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, compiled a book of etiquette. Emily Post published her all-purpose etiquette book in 1922; the 75th-anniversary edition, by her great-granddaughter by marriage, Peggy Post, came out last year.
As early as the sixth century B.C., Aesop was passing on this moral message in his fable of the lion and the mouse: No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. (Contrast this with the autobiographies of Dennis Rodman and rap star LL Cool J: Bad As I Wanna Be and I Make My Own Rules.)
But if prescriptions for politeness are ancient, then incivility has to be just as old. In the Greek myth of Oedipus, two men met on a road, each driving his own chariot. The older of the two demanded that the younger man Oedipus get out of his way. Oedipus wouldn't budge and ended up killing the man, who turned out to be his own father. It may have been the first documented case of road rage.
VIRTUE DOESN'T seem to be much in demand today. Tune in to any prime-time TV show, and you'll hear a litany of bad jokes about sex and adultery. But aside from sitcoms, there is another kind of program that seems to be a direct assault on civility.
SPORTSMANSHIP WAS once valued as the highest aim of athletics. You played with skill and determination, yes, but also with grace. You showed your opponent respect.
Sports remain one of the few realms of modern life in which etiquette is required. If you are whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct in football, you are penalized 15 yards. In basketball, you receive a technical foul.
But the very officials who are meant to keep order have come under attack from the players they judge. It goes far beyond Roberto Alomar's spitting in the face of baseball umpire John Hirschbeck, or Dennis Rodman's head-butt of a basketball referee.
Officials have been beaten and, in some cases, knocked unconscious by high-school and junior-high athletes. Sometimes coaches and parents even get in on the mayhem. Two years ago, a referee in a Philadelphia basketball league for 12-year-olds was so savagely beaten by coaches and fans that he received a concussion and a broken bone near his eye. A Wisconsin district attorney was removed from office after he pushed a referee into a wall during his son's junior-varsity basketball game.
Spectators have followed the examples of their heroes, creating an atmosphere of obscene intimidation in the nation's arenas. Profanity has become so widespread that many parents are reluctant to take their children to games.
For some reason, Philadelphia has a reputation for having the most abusive, foul-mouthed fans in the country. Last October, two basketball fans argued over who was the better point guard - Seattles Gary Payton or Phillys own Allen Iverson. The dispute escalated into gunfire, killing two bystanders.
At an Eagles game on Nov. 10, a mob attacked a fan wearing a jacket with the name of the rival New York Giants. (The Eagles weren't even playing the Giants that day.) When another man came to the rescue of the Giants fan, he was beaten by five men and suffered a broken ankle.
CIVILITY IS, ultimately, a moral question: How do we treat others? That's why the issue reaches deeper than you might think at first. Civility is part of the fiber that binds our culture. If it frays and breaks, how long can a civil society survive?
Many people attribute the breakdown of public morality to a weakening influence of religion. But, in fact, churchgoing and belief in God are at their highest rates in decades.
In our hurried times, maybe were just too busy to be polite. Is civility simply out of date, like crinoline skirts and top hats?
Jan 8, 2002 12:23 PM
|I think this is another example of people getting pretty worked up because things are changing and they don't like where they think things are going. The article itself points out the futility of the argument. Incivility is nothing new. It's not getting worse. It might manifest itself in different ways, but it isn't any different than it was. People who think things were so much more 'civil' in the past are dillusional. When were things more civil? In the 1980s- a.k.a. the 'me' decade? The late 1960s and 1970s were full of rioting and other behavior (justified or not) by young people that older people thought was very uncivilized. How about the 1930s, when the KKK routinely lynched and harrassed people because of the color of their skin or religious beliefs?
Articles like these are just complaints for complaining's sake. Things are no worse than they ever were- but they are different. Even today, some women (like my grandmother) would find it incivil if a man didn't open a door for her; some women (like my girlfriend) would find it insulting if a man did open the door for her (merely because she was a woman). This is just a recurring theme in society- much like the "young girls dress too provacatively" banter that goes back centuries.
|Right on. Same as it ever was||mr_spin|
Jan 8, 2002 12:55 PM
|You are absolutely right.
The story about your girlfriend reminds of a story I've heard several times.
A man opens a shop door for a woman, who promptly berates him. "Just because I am a lady doesn't mean I am incapable of opening the door myself." "Pardon me, miss," the man replies, "but I didn't open the door for you because you are a lady. I opened it because I am a gentleman."
I have always wanted to use that retort. Hard as I try, it hasn't come up yet!
|Did you see Kate and Leopold?||Brian C.|
Jan 8, 2002 4:27 PM
|If not, wait for the video, if you want to see it at all. It's a shallow romantic comedy. Modern-day men are portrayed as morons.|
|Wait, aren't we supposed to be morons?||js5280|
Jan 8, 2002 8:55 PM
|Of course they're morons, they're foils! When does Hollywood make a movie about normal people? How the hell would someone in Los Angeles know what normal is? Just kidding, but not really. Okay, I take it back, there is a one great "normal" guy in recent movie past, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey, American Beauty) I mean you got to love this exchange:
"My job requires mostly masking my contempt for the a$$holes in charge, and, at least once a day, retiring to the men's room so I can jerk off while I fantasize about a life that less closely resembles Hell.
Wow. You are one twisted f#ck.
No, I'm just a regular guy with nothing to lose. "
I agree there is too much incivility. People are way too self-absorbed and feel entitled to things they don't even remotely deserve. My big beef is the lack of "personal responibility." Because I'm too stupid, I'm going to sue you and/or pass laws to protect my stupidity. The best thing you can do is isolate those people and let them live in their little simple universe. It's always been that way and there will always be people like that. The only solutions is not be part of the problem. Got to believe karma will kick these people in the ass. Hopefully before the next time you're forced to deal w/ them.
Unfortunately I think the stupid people are overrunning the country and the Dem-publicans are more than happy to accept these dimwitted lemmings into their fold. Natural selection normally thins these people out but somehow "idiots" have become a state and federally protected species. Off my soap box for now. . .
I give Kate and Leopold a thumbs up. Very entertaining and worth taking your sweetie to unless you expect the mysteries of the universe to be revealled by the show's end. Also, the modern men are morons. . .
Jan 8, 2002 9:13 PM
|doesn't work any more since we've taken control of our own evolution. Hence the |
proliferation of morons and their institutionalized protection. My cynical .02 for the day.
|George Carlin and Natural selection...||peloton|
Jan 9, 2002 2:52 PM
|I think George Carlin summed up our society and natural selection the best. 'Chocking warnings on the side of a bag of marbles? Come on, the kid who eats a mouthful of marbles and chokes to death wasn't supposed to live long enough to reproduce! That's natural selection!'
Less educated people have been statistically proven in the US to have more children than the well educated. It's always the people who you wish wouldn't have kids that have ten of them.
The fool that been leaving all the flames on this board probably has dozens of kids.
Cynical, but whatever....
|we are morons! and why did you see it? P-whipped perhaps?(nm)||merckx56|
Jan 9, 2002 11:35 AM
|A couple reasons. . .||js5280|
Jan 9, 2002 1:01 PM
|Not P-whipped, I did score points though for a) not putting up the typical macho fascade, sorry but it takes more than a chick flick to challenge my masculinity, b) I could tell she wanted to see it but wasn't insisting on it, c) it gets her in a romantic mindset (this was a 2nd date) d) I don't mind watching Meg Ryan in anything (although I don't think she looked that good in this movie) Women like to be romanced and you give them what they want, they'll give you what you want. I like this person so it was big win for the night for the both of us. So what would you have recommended Romeo?|
Jan 9, 2002 4:06 PM
|I can't suggest anything! i'm married, so we all know where my nuts reside! if it was a second date and you scored valuable points, rock on! i have to disagree about meg ryan though, but to each his own. if it's working, keep doing it! i think one of the first movies my wife and i saw on a date was "the mirror has two faces", with barbra streisand, so i can't make fun of anything!|
Jan 9, 2002 9:49 AM
|Its about behavioral / interpersonal exchange between indivduals. Its about an ethos not civil dispute based on romantic idealogy or ethnic differeces based on ones ability to assimulate into a society.
In current terms our popular culture praises violence, ,sex, consumerism, materialism, sarrcasium, a false sense of hope and competitiveness at almost any cost. While it disconcerns itself with the self responsibility, rationality and thought associated with these things being promoted.
Sorry, dude but this place is getting more f*cked up day by day. Its not what crime is commited, its how its commited thats representational of what we have become. I have to say that somtimes i feel like im glad my life on this here biosphere is limted.
|more voodoo science||mr_spin|
Jan 9, 2002 12:08 PM
|Sorry, my friend. It's always been that way. It will always be that way. How different do you think it was at the height of the Roman Empire? How different do you think it was when Spain was colonizing America? I think there was plenty of violence, sex, consumerism, materialism, sarcasm, false sense of hope and competitiveness at almost any cost.
I can go through all kinds of eras and point out the nasty little things that tend to be forgotten by history. That article talks about people tailgating. In 1930s Germany, if you got pissed at someone, you made an anonymous call to the Gestapo. Pretty harsh. Guess what? In 1930s America, you did the same thing. We had our own red scare here, and you could get a visit from the FBI. Fast forward 20 years and it's the same thing, all over again.
So what's the difference today? Why are things so bad today? Well, I'll tell you a true story. A lot of Russians didn't realize how bad things were in their country until the paper started printing it. Under the Soviets, news was essentially propaganda. All happy stuff, all the time. Until it wasn't. Suddenly they realized what terrible lives they had and what a terrible state their country was in. Many of them connected the arrival of bad news with the fall of communism, which is why even today, you'll find a decent sized group of people who want to go back.
You can't go home again. You're already there.
Jan 10, 2002 11:06 AM
|"Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers."
Socrates (470 BC - 399 BC)
|No one can this right....||jrm|
Jan 11, 2002 12:47 PM
|Its not political, idealogical, or nationalistic. I tend to wonder if anyone took the time to read the srticle before posting. apparently NOT|
|It starts with one......||Len J|
Jan 10, 2002 12:02 PM
|YOU & I. The only behavior that I can truly control is my own. It's funny but the more I stay on the high ground the more I find people deal with me on the high ground. When I live civily (especially when it is hard), Others mirror that behavior with me. The nicer I am to people, the nicer they are to me. Unfortunatly, it is easier to go to the least common denominator. I would contend that it starts with me.
|you mean like this?||Dog|
Jan 10, 2002 2:04 PM
|"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
Leo Tolstoy (1828 - 1910)
|you mean like this?||mr_spin|
Jan 10, 2002 3:41 PM
|He was one of those deluded Russians, wasn't he?
|Lynching and rioting aren't "incivility"||Retro|
Jan 11, 2002 10:44 AM
|I think we're confusing a couple of things here. Incivility, at least as it's used in the original post, is the rudeness and boorishness we have to live with day to day. I think that IS getting worse, if for no other reason than overcrowding. California (for instance) has more than twice as many people as it did in 1965. Even if the percentage of boors remains constant (I'd argue that it's increased), you're going to run into more of them.
Lynching is an altogether different thing, and the "riots" of the '60s are exaggerated, misreported and were a really great place to meet girls.
|Lynching and rioting aren't "incivility"||TJeanloz|
Jan 12, 2002 11:18 AM
|So lynching isn't rude or boorish?|
|re: Incivility....||Me Dot Org|
Jan 10, 2002 11:05 PM
|The world gets more crowded, more polluted, and we are urged to work harder so that we can consume more things. We are bombarded by information constantly. We become jaded, desensitized to images of sex and violence. Advertisers and programmers resort to more and more sensational messages to get our attention.
"We're not promoting violence", they say. "As artists, we just reflect the society." There is no responsiblity. Rage is deeply felt, therefore it is valid. Besides, it's fun to watch. The line between talk shows and the WWF is blurred.
You know what I think is interesting? After Pearl Harbor, Americans were asked to sacrifice. There were 'victory gardens'. Womens painted stocking seams on their legs, because nylon went to the war effort. There was gas rationing.
After September 11th, we were told that we were not doing our duty, namely that we were not consuming enough. Shop for America! Get out there and spend Osama Bin Laden into the ground!
Civlity? BORRIINNGG!!!What does that have to do with consumption? That's the important value today! Out of my way!
Manners reflect the values of a civilization. The disconnect we feel between politness and American civilization at the beginning of the 21st Century is a reflection of our cultural prime directive:
Sex, drugs, rock 'n 'roll, power, horsepower, thinner, richer, whatever rings your chimes. Just give it to me now, or get out of the way.
Sorry for rant. It's just that I sometimes feel that we are living in a truly crazy civilization. Liberals say "If it feels good do it". Conservatives say "Let the market decide". They are both sides of the same coin, the lingua franca of a country were you forget higher values.
Jan 11, 2002 9:49 AM
|While wasteful assumption appears to be bad, is there a valid argument that consumption allows more people to be employed, so that more people can have a higher quality of life, not just in terms of material things, but also nutrition, health care, education, etc? I'm not taking a position, but it seems like to me the motive for continued consumption following 9/11 was largely to keep the ecomony alive and help avoid unemployment. Is there merit to that?