“Whatever happened to civility?” is an oft-heard lament, particularly among those of us over 50 who recognize civility’s increasing absence in a world changing at warp speed. Technology has forever altered the style, speed and reach of our decidedly less personal communication. Escalating vulgarity, lax standards, sensational media and polarized politics reign. Society today is far different from what it was when we were young.
See also: Planting the seeds of good manners.
Illustration by James Steinberg/Getty Images
While rudeness is pervasive and rising (one recent report concluded that bad behavior may be the “new normal”), the societal and financial costs of incivility are astronomical — impacting our homes and relationships, schools, economy, health care and government.
Civility is more than polite courtesies. Derived from the Old French and Latin term for “good citizen,” civility enables us to live respectfully in communities; it is the glue that binds our society. It can be the difference between life and death — as, for example, when health care professionals bully subordinates, cover mistakes and create mistrust. It is an essential component of our human sustainability, enabling us not only to survive but thrive.
Reversing the current course of incivility is a challenge for our times. Until a rudeness vaccine is developed, we must dig into our civility tool kit.
There are compelling reasons why we should. A life is not defined by a single act, and few of us will ever achieve national acclaim or perform deeds that change the course of history. However, there is “greatness” in treating others with respect, compassion, kindness and generosity. With this we can make a difference in the lives of many.
5 tools for saving civility
Here are ways you can make a difference.
- Make a habit of practicing kindness, generosity and gratitude. Substantial research shows that people who regularly engage in these acts live longer, healthier and happier lives. It’s never too late to start.
- Nurture your social relationships. They have the capacity to generate your greatest happiness, scientists say. Enrich your connections by balancing Internet contact with phone calls and face-to-face visits, which are more personal forms of communication.
- Establish meaningful dialogue with medical providers. Assert your right to respectful and compassionate treatment. As a patient, you have the opportunity to evaluate hospital care; hospitals with extensive negative evaluations can lose Medicare subsidies.
- If you love your grandchildren but not their behavior, seize “teachable moments.” Child development experts say we’re no longer teaching our kids manners — or respect and empathy for others. By contrast, a major study reported that social skills are a more accurate predictor of future success than test scores. So step up your game when the grandchildren are in your house. Enlighten your progeny about the importance of developing interpersonal skills and relationships by engaging them in conversations without small screens and buttons. That may be your enduring legacy.
- Promote decency and decorum among elected officials. Hold them accountable for behavior during the 2012 campaign and, more important, once they’re in office. Urge civil discourse and bipartisanship to avoid gridlock. Your and your country’s livelihoods are at stake.
Given our sheer numbers as older people, we can have an impact on transformation. At the very least, we can set an example. It may take a generation to create a positive cultural shift, but we have to start somewhere. These are the seeds we can all plant. One at a time.
Sara Hacala is a certified etiquette and protocol consultant and author of Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude and Attitude for a Polite Planet.
Also of interest: Polling results on cellphone etiquette.