Where Has Civility Gone?

August 21, 2023

I have been thinking about civility a lot these days. We seem to have become a society of survival of the meanest, no longer of the fittest, as the saying goes. In my little corner of the world, I have seen an erosion of civility that extends from the grocery store to the gym to the streets I walk every day.

Everyone seems to be at the boiling point, spoiling for a fight over the slightest thing. I am not sure how you feel about this, but it’s a trend that terrifies me as we watch violence explode daily.

At first I thought it was post-pandemic stress; then I thought maybe it was coming off the hottest July on record and one of the hottest summers. Or maybe it was inflation. Or maybe it’s politics and the media who have ensured that we can’t agree on anything and must absolutely despise the side with whom we don’t agree. We are being conditioned to treat our fellow citizens as enemies of the state if they hold different beliefs than ours. Yikes!

And then I landed in my beloved Italy for work and I saw that I might be wrong. After a blistering summer of record temperatures and heat wave after heat wave, coupled with eye-popping crowds of tourists arriving, I was greeted with nothing but smiles, friendliness and kindness. Sure, they have their problems and even their fair share of jerks, but my experience is that not much dampens their joy in life and their love of meeting other human beings and connecting.

The only distress I saw was in the faces and loud voices of angry tourists, tired from travel, after exhausting and increasingly crappy airline service (in the name of profit) and ready to take it out on the first person they encountered, usually their poor driver who is simply trying to smooth their journey to their final destination.

Here at home, I am not sure what drives our incivility anymore. Even at the gym, a supposed little community of like-minded people, I encounter inexcusable rudeness. From guys sitting on equipment on their phones (to which Arnold says, if you’re on your phone, you’re not working out), refusing to move because they’re ‘using it’ (and ready to punch you should you politely ask them to move); to weight hogs who grab every denomination of weights, even if they will only use one and act as though you’ve asked for their first born in bonded servitude if you ask to use something they have at their feet (not in use).

The grocery store and pharmacy have become like cage matches with people blocking aisles, rudely pushing you and your cart out of their way,

When did we become a people who think that we are the only ones who matter? There used to be a joke about the ‘me’ generation, but these days, the attitude of ‘me first’ has been taken to new heights. Is there no more doing things for the greater good? Is there no more concern for our neighbors? Is there no more treating people as you would like to be treated? Is there no more ‘if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing?’

In an age where facts no longer matter and we are governed by our ‘feelings,’ have we lost all feeling?

My mother was tough, in every way. She pushed us to succeed in whatever we chose to do. She wanted us to be good people. She always said that life was about service; that our main purpose day to day was to work hard, but also to lift someone up.

My grandfather always advised us to be careful how we treated people as we rose in life. He said’ be careful who you step on as you rise because you’ll pass them on your way back down.’

With those mantras in my head, I have done my best to treat others with care and kindness. Have I been perfect? Heck, no. Have I tried hard? I have. I am proud to say that at my mature age, I have never told someone to…well, you know…do something to themselves which is actually physically impossible.

Do I have a temper? I do. Can it flare in moments of frustration? It surely can.

I want to give us all a challenge this month. As we get ready to sail into the holiday season, with all of its gorgeous, twinkling chaos. Let’s make an effort to think of others besides ourselves and our wants. Let’s see if a little kindness can’t take down society’s temperature a little and maybe stop tempers from flaring so easily. Let’s see if we can’t spend the month (and maybe forever) treating each other as we would wish to be treated?

I’d love to see how it goes and have you all tell me, here or on Instagram how kindness has changed your life. I know it changes mine every day.

Let’s do this and change the world together.