Listen my children and you shall hear
By Michael Ryan
In this very special 24-page section, which is about renewing our republic, we’re exploring the biggest challenges facing America today. But none might be bigger than civility – or the lack thereof.
If we can’t treat each other with respect, dignity and civility, after all, then how are we going to even discuss all our challenges and opportunities?
Yet, increasingly, it seems we can’t.
On the internet, on the streets, on the political stage, on television and even at the entertainment industry’s award shows, America is simply tearing itself apart with its political and social disputes. We boycott companies and even whole states. Performers and designers blackballed the incoming first family. First daughter Ivanka Trump was verbally assaulted on an airplane. Some of us threaten to move to another country because our presidential candidate didn’t win. Some stores and clerks refuse to serve those of other political persuasions. Friendships are lost over social media posts.
It’s gotten way out of hand.
With mere intolerance of each other and coarse acrimony toward each other, we seem to be doing what a Civil War, two World Wars, the tumultuous 1960s’ racial strife and assassinations and Vietnam protests, and even the Sept. 11 attacks could not – which is to tear at the very fabric this nation is stitched with.
This is Job 1, folks. We’ve got to learn how to live together as Americans again.
It’s not just our politics, either. Writing in the ‘Harvard Business Review’, professors Christine Porath and Christine Pearson note that, “Over the past 14 years we’ve polled thousands of workers about how they’re treated on the job, and 98 percent have reported experiencing uncivil behavior.”
Incivility can hurt a business’s bottom line, they say, through the lower productivity of dispirited or indignant workers, turnover and damage to customer relations.
“Companies we’ve worked with,” the two wrote, “calculate that the tab for incivility can run into the millions. Some years back Cisco put together a detailed estimate of what incivility was costing the company. … Even in this exemplary workplace, it was estimated that incivility cost $12 million a year.”
What has caused all this? A perfect storm of circumstances.
After decades of mostly one-party rule in Washington, the two parties have traded pre-eminence in recent decades – paving the way for added friction. New ideas and ways of thinking have bubbled up through the internet and other alternative media. An unfortunate consumer ethic – that the customer is always right – has been hammered into our heads.
Moreover, with our technological ability to share every single one of our opinions with the world at any given moment, we’ve heated up the public debate – and in many cases we’ve forgotten ourselves, as the British might say: We’ve thrown manners out the door and convinced ourselves that, for instance, we know something about basketball that Michael Jordan does not.
Mostly, the institutions that used to instill civility – the family, the church – have lost influence over children, while society’s waves of boorishness have washed over them. Our schools have been left to try to pick up the pieces.
What can be done?
First, we must recognize the problem with incivility, and the gravity of it. It has, in effect, become a national security issue because it, more than any external force, is capable of tearing us apart as a nation.
Our political leaders should lead us in a discussion on the critical need for civility – and should lead by example as well. Viewers should turn away from programs, particularly news or political ones, that offer rank incivility. Media companies should make civility a priority. Families, churches, businesses and schools should teach it. Cisco embarked on a “global workplace civility program,” realizing it was in the company’s best interest.
More important, we need to understand that it’s in the nation’s best interest as well.
America is not bound by ethnicity, as most every other nation on Earth is. We’re tied together by our relationship to each other, by our shared ideas and ideals. That relationship, the fabric of America, is fraying.
If America dies from its own self-inflicted wounds, future generations won’t be all that selective in whom they blame.
We will have all been present.
Michael Ryan is editorial page editor of ‘The Augusta Chronicle’ in Georgia.
OF ALL AMERICANS SAY CIVILITY IS A PROBLEM, WITH 74% SAYING IT DECLINED IN RECENT YEARS
2016 Civility in America Survey
We seem to have overdone self-esteem in our children and underdone respect in many others. “Having a grown man scream into your face about not accepting expired coupons when you’re at the age of 17 really makes you take stock in civilization,” one citizen wrote about civility.
The fact that our two political parties are near-equal in power, and that there are so many careerists in Congress, makes for a combative national political scene.
Traditional media get ratings and make money off two people arguing with each other. Meanwhile, in social media, everyone else gets in on it.
Poor parenting – largely a result of family breakdown and the church’s decreased role in civic life – also contributes to coarseness.
Civility needs to be taught in homes and schools again.
Adults need to model civility for youths and children.
Programs and organizations have been created to encourage civility, including the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona – founded after the Tucson shooting that killed six and wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The NICD works toward:
• Elected officials who are capable of working to solve the big issues facing our country.
• A public that demands civil discourse as well as government that works in the best interests of the country as a whole.
• Media that inform citizens in a fair and responsible way.