Trying to save a world where civility is clearly lacking.
By Ed Butts, PE
Way back in 2008 I wrote a column titled “Loyalty, What Happened to It?”
In it, I asked readers to consider inter-company relationships and the loyalty existing between an employer and employees. I also shared what I viewed as reasons for the decline, citing many of my own personal experiences as proof.
The column was well received by many readers and I have been told some still reference the column on occasion.
The lapse of 10 years between then and now has afforded me with the perspective only time can provide. Today I look upon these circumstances with a newfound understanding of the frailties associated with this relationship as well as my own. I now realize a personal
relationship, enduring trust, and a common goal toward a company and employee’s mutual betterment is certainly not possible within today’s employment dynamic.
That said, as we now find ourselves on the cusp of a much different world, I am compelled to write a new column about a more serious condition. This time, as a slight revision to the original title, I wish to ask: Forget loyalty, whatever happened to civility?
Is Civility Really Dead?
Before I answer that question, perhaps I should explain what I think civility is or should be. Civility is the common link we shared at one time that bound us together in extreme patience, fellowship, and country pride.
It is not simply being courteous to people but recognizing the inherent nature that lies within all of us that we are joined together as a common people, secured in unmistakable biological, spiritual, and societal similarities and bonds that are ever present, undeniable, and at one time, believed to be unbreakable.
In many daily events, civility is the simple act of assisting an elderly person across a busy street, extending a hand to help those less fortunate, or picking up a child that has fallen on a playground. In other grander gestures, civility is donating our time, resources, and energies to charities, benevolent groups, and fellow man and woman without expecting recognition in return.
Finally, I believe civility is recognizing and accepting the right of all individuals to express drastically opposing points of view—politically and otherwise—without feeling the desire or need to ostracize or criticize them in some gratuitous form of “one-up-man-ship.”
Civility is to be graciously handed down and taught from our parents, teachers, mentors, and peers. It is a continuing process and goal, not an ultimate destination, as it is never entirely fulfilled or reached.
Finally, I think civility is not expressing mutual distaste just because one of us happens to be Republican or Democrat, Catholic or Jewish, or white or black just to name a few possible differences.
Erosion of Family
So now I ask you: Is civility in our society dead? Certainly, if you use the above description and symptoms, civility may not be dead, but it’s definitely hurting and hanging on life support.
So when did all of this happen? Who and what caused it, and how can we bring it back? As someone who has lived 60 short years on this planet, I can only cite my personal experiences and observations as possible explanations.
I believe civility began its downward and precipitous spiral coincident with the fragmentation and slow dissolution of the family structure. When I say “family” I don’t just mean the immediate family of gramps and grandma, mom and dad, brothers and sisters. I include the intertwined “soul” within the family of men and women in the United States that once existed during specific timeframes and certain events.
These were all too short and incomplete intervals of times when we all seemed to strive and work toward a common goal or objective of being one united country, not fragmented subdivisions and minions of geopolitical parties only concerned with a few more dollars in our pockets at the expense of integrity and humanity.
In my lifetime, these all too brief periods of time have included the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the moon landing of Apollo 11 in 1969, the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, and the 9-11 terrorist destruction of the World Trade Towers in 2001.
Count them; that’s just four events over as many decades. It’s not many, but enough to leave a distinct impression upon me. We came out from under these events, three of them tragic, resilient with the fortitude and ability and need to pick up the pieces and move on. From the more pleasant event, we were invigorated with a sense of increased pride that as a country “we could do anything.”
Some folks may ask, “Wasn’t the country united during Watergate?” In my judgment, no; it wasn’t even close. I can vividly recall political party divisions, rampant self-protectionism, and finger-pointing even within the same parties.
From my experience, every time the government was involved in what should have been a seminal moment, you can bet civility lost out quickly. And why not, since our political leaders are also human beings? The altruistic objectives and goals they may have had at one time were rapidly displaced by the drive for power along with the need for continuing party support, donor funding, and personal enrichment.
I have spent the past five to 10 years watching individuals who I once would have never believed would stoop so low to now bashing colleagues, choosing up sides based strictly on party aims and alliance, and generally eroding our established system of republican and
democratic representative government through a slow but methodical process of voter ignorance and apathy.
Somehow, we must return our government to one of, for, and by the people and return the people working in government to where they quit behaving like children.
The other main culprit in all of this is the easy access to and crumbling destruction caused by using and abusing social media. The ability to continually type out increasingly harmful comments and epithets while remaining totally anonymous, unaccountable, and unknown to the world has created a generation of societal basement dwellers where their only goal is getting the other guy first.
All I seem to see on the Internet and hear on so-called fake news networks are two things. From Republicans, I hear how much Democrats hate the United States and want nothing but open borders so notorious gangs from all around the world can spill in undeterred. From Democrats, I hear how much the Republicans want to split up and jail immigrant families at the U.S. borders, care only about enriching the already rich, and take away our hard-earned government benefits.
But, let’s be real for a moment. Republicans, do you really believe all Democrats hate our country and want to change our system of government to socialism or communism? And Democrats, do you really believe all Republicans wish for and desire nothing more than separating all migrant children from their parents, locking them up, and throwing away the keys?
Unfortunately, I admit I have occasionally fallen prey to the all too real sickness of responding to a comment I didn’t agree with or pushing back on an opposing opinion. Whatever satisfaction I may have gained for a short time was usually replaced with an overwhelming sense of dread and immaturity after I actually finished reading my own rebuttal or statement.
The lack of civility expressed every minute of every day on child-accessible and expanding interactive forums such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook only encourage equal, not more explosive, responses or comments from the opposing viewpoint.
It also teaches our children the philosophy we are not all in this together and they must somehow get one up on the other guy before he can possibly get one up on you. Is this what we really want to teach our kids?
So where do we go from here? Whether or not you wish to admit it, we have a second Civil War brewing right here within our very own shores. It’s not one with actual weapons, but a cultural war by hateful words and rhetoric.
The unrelenting “us versus them” attitude is hanging on steadfast. It is advanced by a few hate-mongers and other recognition-starved individuals who are laughing all the way to the bank, underscoring P.T. Barnum’s famous expression, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
This time may be worse than the original Civil War. No, we won’t lose thousands of lives in one day like we did at Gettysburg, but we now have the power to destroy the soul of a country with careful and coordinated attacks of loose cannons on both sides.
Think about this for a minute. Who will likely comprise the majority of casualties? It’s the individuals with the least ability toward intellectual self-protection: children, teens, the poor and disenfranchised, the disabled and elderly, and those physically or mentally challenged—people without the engrained ability, means, and developed sense of self-protection to know how to survive in this new atmosphere.
The solution is glaringly simple—even if seemingly unrealistic and unattainable. We must find a way to get it back—as basic human beings, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and ultimately, as teachers and mentors of the next greatest generation.
We must recognize and implement our responsibility toward them and ourselves by extending and expanding civility to all of our fellow men and women by demonstrating our overwhelming commonalities instead of our slight differences in our homes, workplaces, schools, places of worship, and yes, most of all, in our social exchanges every day.
Forget on waiting for grandstanding politicians. It’ll never happen if we wait for them to finally come to their senses. All of us in our own way must put aside the tendency toward writing the hateful comment or rebuttal, responding to the hateful comment or rebuttal, or verbally expressing the hateful comment or rebuttal. We must strive to place aside the charged political landscape and return to a more civilized and tolerant way of expression.
So, we now come down to the ultimate question one more time: Is civility really dead? No, I don’t think it’s dead just yet, but it is in critical condition hanging on for dear life on life support. It’s up to all of us working together as societal doctors to fashion a cure, quickly and before the patient succumbs because nothing is more important.
As always, until next month, work safe and smart.
Ed Butts, PE, is the chief engineer at 4B Engineering & Consulting, Salem, Oregon. He has more than 40 years of experience in the water well business, specializing in engineering and business management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.