By now we’ve all heard about the heckling and outburst shouted at President Obama by Representative Joe Wilson. Most of us have also heard about Kanye West’s latest public tirade at the MTV Video awards Sunday night. Driving to Liberal yesterday, I listened to a CNN news anchor replay the audio from both of the above, and then put this question to the listening audience, “Is civility dead?”
I have been thinking about it ever since. I can only speak for myself and I’m pretty good at that, so my answer would be that while I don’t believe it’s dead, it certainly seems to be dying. It isn’t that complicated. Civility is just another word for courtesy, common courtesy. Representative Wilson is entitled to his opinion; he’s even entitled to call the President a liar. But he shouldn’t have done either in front of the entire nation; no one should. His is an office of honor and respect. It doesn’t matter if you agree with him or not; being President of the United States of America deserves and commands respect.
Kanye West is nothing more than a bully and a punk, thinly disguised as a recording artist. This isn’t the first time he’s pitched a temper tantrum at a public venue. Perhaps it’s time to stop inviting him, to stop giving him the opportunity, to stop tolerating him.
I’ve been exploring the state of our nation’s mind and I wonder if we can dump this all in the lap of parenting? I was taught to afford everyone respect. My parents drilled courtesy and respect into me. While they encouraged me to develop my own thoughts and opinions, they also demanded that I respect those of others. I was taught to take note of a situations and circumstances before I responded in disagreement. Have I always followed through with this? Oh, no, not always. Unfortunately, I, too, am sometimes human. But at least I had the foundation. We know what we want our kids to learn at school, but what are we teaching them at home? Even better, what are we showing them? Do we treat them with respect and civility? Our spouse? Ourselves?
At some point in our lives we become adults. Foundation or not, I believe that every adult who is not institutionalized, knows right from wrong. Despite how we were raised and despite how unhappy we might be with our lives, we know right from wrong.
In his book, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct, P.M. Forni provides rules to follow and examples of how to put them in practice. Here are a few examples:
Think before asking favors.
Give thoughtful criticism and advice (when requested).
Refrain from idle complaining.
Consider that you might be wrong.
There is no shortage of quotes on the matter of civility.
“So let us begin anew - remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.” -John Fitzgerald Kennedy
“Teaching civility is an obligation of the family.” -Stephen Carter, author of Civility
Civility was a popular theme with our founding fathers and others who fought for and contributed to our country’s rich history and that alone, should tell us something. But civility has not been a popular topic of late, and as it turns out, maybe it should be. I believe our future depends on it.