COMMENTARY: A Call for More Civility

When George Washington was 16, he discovered a booklet of 110 maxims describing how a well-mannered person should behave. He was so convinced that these maxims would help him become a better person that he set out to incorporate them into his daily living. Among Washington’s many virtues, his commitment to civility marked him as a gentleman and helped him become a universally respected and enormously effective leader.

By today’s standards, Washington’s notions of civility seem quaint and old-fashioned, but the purpose of manners and etiquette is to soften relationships with respect and to treat others graciously.

Instead of updating our concept of manners to accord with modern lifestyles, we seem tobe abandoning the notion of civility entirely. We’re exposed to heavy doses of tactless, nasty, and cruel remarks on daytime talk shows, dating games, and courtroom and reality programs.

As a result, we’ve produced a generation that’s comfortable being brutish and malicious and a society that’s increasingly coarse and unpleasant.

In a tense world full of conflicts, frustrations, and competition, civility is an important social lubricant that helps us live together constructively. If we care about the world we’re making for our children, we need to be less tolerant of mean-spirited, discourteous, and impolite remarks and do a better job of teaching and modeling civility.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 6

  1. Yes, thank you. This is so dead-on correct. Why in the world has it become entertaining to call others “n00b” , “idiot”, and think it’s funny? I mean, where is the actual humor? Especially when it’s about people you will never meet? You are so correct when you say exposed to heavy DOSES of mean-spirited examples of humanity, like its an addictive drug. We have a brilliant technology-driven culture which loses its higher potential too often to the lowest common denominator of playground bullies.

  2. I’ve noticed a big decline in civility on the internet. Though it’s the worst when people can comment anonymously, even on facebook people are shockingly lewd, disrespctful, and uncivil, particularly on politics. Polite, thoughtful, sincere commentary is often ridiculed and “despised.” The uncivil reactions and responses feel like bullying. I think that schoolyard bullying is partly a reflection of adult bullying-role modeling.

  3. So very true. It became “clever” to be sarcastic and demeaning a number of years ago. They called it comedy. It’s mean, actually. Now our society emulates it. A tragic loss of civility.
    Thank you, Mr. Josephson.
    Joe Banfield, High School Educator.

  4. “we need to be less tolerant of mean-spirited, discourteous, and impolite remarks”

    However, I’ll avoid taking “less tolerant” to mean that we should respond in kind to give those @#!*@ a taste of their own medicine.

    When my wife gets a long, nasty political condemnation from someone in response to her writing, she tries to find one thing that they said that she can more or less agree with, and then continues on, responding respectfully as she makes makes some explanations of her arguments on subjects that they had fulminated about. Very often, they are surprised, and respond more civilly themselves leading to a genuine dialog. My wife (a political scientist) gets insight into the causes of their deeper grievances, and they appreciate being heard. They, in turn, get to hear some ideas that they may not have heard inside the “bubble” that encloses them. Win-win, and civilizing too!

  5. I agree that discourse and conversation have descended to the lowest point in history over the past several years. We can’t seem to talk with one another without being accused of being too liberal or too conservative, etc. One of my main concerns is the intolerance displayed by those who purport to be “tolerant”. This is an actual quote: “I am intolerant of those who are not tolerant.” That pretty much shuts down the conversation.

  6. Wow I completely agree with RRoden and what better way to put what is going on in the world today!!!!! I wish more people like you Michael would speak up even when your answer is not exactly what most people would call politically correct. “I am intolerant of those who are not tolerant…” that really means if you disagree with me then I will not let you speak!!! sound familiar; media people, Hollywood people, politicians, activist…. the list goes on and on. and sadly we are all paying for it one way or another; freedoms we hold dear are being taken away and most of society is not paying attention.
    George

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