1) Formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.
synonyms: courtesy, courteousness, politeness, good manners, graciousness, consideration, respect, politesse, comity
2) Polite remarks used in formal conversation.
plural noun: civilities
synonyms: polite remark, politeness, courtesy; formality
– Definition from dictionary.com
I am starting with this definition because I want to talk about what civility is and why we seem to be losing it bit by bit in today’s society. It happens to be election day – probably the most contentious presidential election campaign in history, so you might think I am going to talk about the candidates, but that’s not it. Candidates for public office always make us look at them a little sideways. The mudslinging ads have been going on for many years. Before television, political cartoonists and newspaper reporters criticized and berated candidates and political figures.
This particular election has made me think about how mean strangers can be and how politeness seems to have taken a back seat to judgment. I am a media person and a bit of a social media voyeur, or “lurker,” if you will. My degree is in public relations and I studied sociology, and my hobby is photography. I like to go to a crowded setting, like a theme park, and use my zoom lens to get the perfect artistic shot of people in public – people laughing, playing, talking. It is a challenge to capture people at just the right moment to see their emotions. Along those lines, I also like to read comments online. What is the general public thinking? That parent who posted the most adorable video of a child singing? What do people think of it?
Invariably, there are people who comment who have the nastiest comments, even at the most charming and inoffensive things. That child singing? The majority of people say “how adorable” and they share the video. A group of people, however, will always say horrible, judgmental things: “What idiot puts their child on display for the world to see?” “She has a horrible voice. The parents are deluding their child into thinking she is a good singer.” “That song is stupid.” Blah, blah, blah. Whatever happened to the line that Thumper’s mom made him say? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
I saw a video once of an 11-year-old girl who was invited to the Ellen Degeneres show. She had been learning hip hop dancing, and she was on the show with her instructor. She was really good and it looked like tons of fun, but the song that she was dancing to was by Nikki Minaj. The hateful criticism of the child’s parents, Ellen, the instructor, the musical genre, and even the child’s dancing ability was just appalling.
I could go on for a long time describing the comments I see, but my point is that this anonymity makes people say things that they might not say to people’s faces – or would they? This election cycle has made me question whether civility is not the norm anymore. Are people teaching the next generation how to be civil? I know I expect my children to be civil and I hope I am civil, and guess what? If I say something mean, I seek that person out and apologize. I talk it out with them. If it was a stranger and I cannot make amends, I make a promise to myself to be more civil next time.
We’re not perfect. But if this lack of manners and hatefulness continues into the next generation, we will never be able to fix the simple relationships with strangers. The philosophy of Pay It Forward should be the way we live. Say or do something nice and that person will say or do something nice. Maybe we can make the world a better place.