Incivility: A "Clear and Present Danger" to Democracy

Incivility is a "clear and present danger" to democracy. We need to restore a higher standard of behavior and in the process restore respect for ourselves and others.

I recently read an article entitled “Can ‘Manners for Democracy’ Be Saved?” that accomplished the mission of most opinion pieces, it gave me pause.  The author, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post included several valid comments. Among these that “Manners have become quaint, while behaviors once associated with rougher segments of society have become mainstream.”   Amen to that.

Clearly, we as a society seem to be embarked on a downward spiral in terms of civility, much less refinement that would make past generations cringe. We see it everyday and for whatever the reason seem either oblivious or nonpulsed by it.  Have we given up? Reflecting on the theme of incivility and the negative impact on society, I thought of the 1989 novel by Tom Clancy, and the 1993 movie by the same title: Clear and Present Danger. 

A few weeks ago I was having lunch in a local, family owned pizza/sandwich restaurant in central Worcester County that is popular and consistently produces great food. It was lunch time and the place was jammed. Every booth and table was taken. Demographically it was a perfect “snapshot” of the community with friends, several families with young children and local high school students out enjoying a half day of school!  Reading a newspaper while waiting for my food, I was half listening to the typical banter among the students and enjoying their exuberance until one started with a few “F-bombs” followed by suggestions of a relationship with someone’s mother that was immoral if not illegal.

My head snapped up and I surveyed the area, two families were seated well within hearing range. A mother and her three children seated in one booth and a mother, father and 5 year old at another. Both women looked embarassed — blushing and looked away. The father was nonplused as he looked at the news on television.  Oh well, I thought, if they don’t care, why should I. That lasted 3 seconds. I looked at the offending teen who was laughing and actually repeated the mother comment for a second time.

“Nice language” I said pointedly, looking at the other students around him including girls who were also blushing. They knew. The young man looked startled. “Huh?” was his reply. I repeated my comment “nice language, very impressive” I said.

Embarrassed, which I took as a good thing, he apologized and sheepishly looked away.

I ate my lunch in silence. As I was leaving, I called the owner over and mentioned the language issue. “Yeah, I know, I try to keep an eye on the kids” was his reply.  I thought to myself, it isn’t an eye that he should be keeping on them, but rather his ears. At least I was thanked by him for speaking up.

Driving back home I couldn’t help but think of how low we as a society are sinking when this type of boorish behavior is ignored or accepted. What about the other adults who heard the teenagers comments, why didn’t they speak up? Finally, I thought about his peers, especially the girls who were obviously classmates. Where was the respect for them? In society’s pursuit of “equality” have we lost respect for women? Have we just lost respect for ourselves? I thought of my late mother who, until her dying day took personal pride in my action as a 5 year old of removing my cap, not told by anyone to do so, upon entering the elevator with her and one of my aunts at the former McCarthy’s Department Store on Main Street in Woonsocket.

A centerpiece of democracy is the freedom to exchange opinions and ideas without risk of personal attack or character assassination. Incivility, in its many forms, poses a clear and present danger to that process. In this election year, why not ask more of the candidates for office to uphold a higher standard and for that matter? Why not ask the same of ourselves?

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Meesh February 28, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Gene this incivility of which Mr Lafayette speaks stems from poor parenting not poor governing. It's about manners and respect.
KodakMan March 06, 2012 at 03:27 PM
When I was a kid and you went into a restaurant, people talked quietly and kept their conversations private. Now in most restaurants people are screaming at the top of their lungs as they "talk" to one another. Embellished by the uncontrolled screaming and yelling of undisciplined brats. And they used to pipe "dinner music" thru the speakers. But now they blast contemporary "music" in your ears causing you to eat as fast as you can so you can get the hell out of the place!
Publius Veritas March 06, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Arthur, I'm with you; it seems as if no one has an idea of the correct protocol regarding mobile phone use. Some talk as loud as they want and on embarrassing subjects while in the close confines of buses, waiting lines, restaurants, etc... And another thing, when I go to a restaurant with my wife, the last thing I want to be called is "guys!" Talk about disrespect - these waiters and waitresses need to be taught how to say sir and maam.
Rene M. Lafayette March 11, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Today's "Meet the Press" is addressing "Where Has Civility Gone? Will It Ever Return?" This will be interesting to watch. Thank you everyone for your comments....and civility.
English first March 12, 2012 at 12:36 PM
It is hard not to be tired of a comment like Arthur C' "When i was a kid". Children in the past misbehaved just like today. Children in the past had manners and so many of them have manners today. Those wide stroke brushes are untrue. I often compliment young families who have well behaved children in a restaurant. As far as teenage language, it is deplorable. But I have seen the same kind of language on the Patch!


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