Our un-civil society

This week’s Supreme Court decision allowing anti-gay protests at funerals for military members who were killed in service to our country is, in my opinion, just one more threat to what little civility we retain in our society. With regard to this particular issue, I ask: “What about compassion for the family and friends of these dead soldiers?” While the Constitution apparently protects free speech even in extreme cases like this, what protects our concept of humanity in our culture?

Increasingly, it seems, people feel entitled to “do their own thing” without any consideration for how their actions affect others around them. Bad language is so common any more that I’m convinced many people don’t even think of the things they say as swear words. Or, if they are aware of what they are saying, they somehow feel they have a license to be loud, obnoxious, rude, and disrespectful to anyone who might be within earshot of their voices (and, by the way, whatever happened to keeping one’s voice low enough that it is only heard in one’s own group?).

These days I am unwilling to, for example, challenge a child who is misbehaving in public (when a parent is not present), especially if he or she is above the age of 10 or 12 because it’s impossible to predict how the child will react to my criticism. Today’s kids aren’t concerned that news of their antics will get back to their parents and  they certainly can’t be embarrassed into better behavior. I’m left wondering what our society will be like in 20 or 25 years when today’s youth are old enough to be taking leadership roles in business and government.

It’s obvious I can’t fix this civility problem by myself. Though it’s not much, I can monitor my own words and actions to avoid offending others and, where possible, do what I can to demonstrate civility, e.g., smiling at and greeting people as we pass one another, letting cars enter the roadway in front of me during rush hour traffic, holding the elevator for a few seconds so a late arriver won’t have to wait. Will any of these actions have “big picture” impact? Probably not, but if even one person is left feeling a tiny bit better because of one of these actions, then perhaps they will be willing to more polite and considerate of people they meet and  maybe, somehow, these kind acts will have a ripple effect that extends far beyond my little circle of influence.

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