Civility is Dying, and Only We Can Save It

Civility is dying, and only we can save it.

There seems to be less and less formal politeness and courtesy when it comes to public behavior and especially public discussion.  If fact, “discussion” itself seems to be at an all-time low, replaced with argument, ranting, protest and personal attack.

I’m fortunate to associate with a great many intelligent, articulate people from all walks of life, female and male, old friends and new, encompassing a wide range of ages, economic status and ethnicity.  If you are reading this, then it’s very likely that you are among those in my life for whom I am grateful.  You support my efforts that are worthy and discourage those that are flawed.  You keep me appropriately grounded when I’m flying high, and lift me up when I’m down.  And while we certainly don’t agree on everything, we do agree to remain honest and respectful with each other, even when we disagree… even when we disagree passionately (which we sometimes do, and thank goodness for that!).

 Media – Mainstream, Social and Anti-Social

The advent of email, texting and social media has enabled me to stay in touch with countless individuals with whom I would have otherwise lost touch.  In addition, the majority of my friends and acquaintances appreciate being objectively informed, and there are selected segments of social media that enable that.  Sadly, I think we are well past the time when we need to take a very serious look at how we communicate with each other.  I appreciate spirited debate, as it was foundational to the creation of our country.  However, it seems that the vast majority of mainstream and social media (Facebook, twitter, etc.) has devolved into a public platform for people who routinely cross way over the line from legitimate, fact- and reason-based reporting and perspective into rhetoric, hyperbole, and ad hominem attack.

How We Treat Each Other Today Foretells Our Tomorrow

American citizens certainly have a First Amendment right to say pretty much whatever they please, but that doesn’t mean we have to invite all speakers into our presence, much less allow them to remain while they insult us and our other invited guests, most of whom usually just turn and leave.  Permitting this behavior unchecked contributes to the continuing decline of civility within our society.  No Boardroom in the country would allow this type of behavior, in fact, no respectful Public Forum should allow this on an ongoing basis.  One of the reasons I’m becoming less inclined to comment on Facebook posts is that I do not wish to be figuratively spat upon (privately or otherwise), much less engage in a public spitting match.  Someone once said: “Our daily behavior with each other is clear indication of our future together.”  The examination of any recent day’s public discourse could suggest that we are in store for a very undesirable future.

Civility benefits from adherence to known facts, and suffers when those facts are spun (regardless of whether they are spun left or right).  I believe mainstream media (for their own reasons) does more than enough spin, sometimes with complete disregard of foundational facts, even in the presence of irrefutable evidence.  The result is often higher ratings, and always higher emotions, helping to drive the ever-increasing divide between Americans.

The level of self-righteous outrage has clearly gone way off the rails.  I’ve never witnessed so many people do so much damage while charging forward absolutely convinced that not only are they “doing the right thing,” but firm in the belief that they, and only they know what the right thing is.  And… anyone who disagrees is not only wrong, they are evil!  It’s no longer “I’m right and you’re wrong,” it’s “I’m right and you’re a despicable worthless piece of human trash.”  Over the past few years I’ve been far more savagely attacked for things that I questioned than for anything I ever actually proclaimed or did.

The Price of Winning

This ever-increasing environment of disrespectful narrative does nothing but raise the collective ire, contributing only to the bad taste in one’s mouth.  I used to look forward to jumping online, but anymore, being deluged with posturing, lies and rage is not at all how I wish to begin, much less spend my day.  A former US Senator recently stated that his promotion of an egregious lie about a political opponent was perfectly fine because it helped contribute to the opponent’s defeat, affirming that victory was more important than honesty or integrity.

Along with honesty and accuracy, civility should be paramount.  Anything less devalues all manner of respect, including self-respect.  As such, we really need to decide if winning in the public discourse at any cost is worth it or not.  Civility is dying, and if we don’t change our behavior, our Civilization will follow.

Author: David Wilson

Born and raised in Flint, David Wilson now lives in Traverse City. He is a very proud husband (Shari), father (Kyle & Danielle), rider of Gitane and Specialized bicycles, Flint Northern Viking, and double-alumnus Michigan State University Spartan.