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?