What Happened to Civility?

Civility “What happened to civility?” was the USA Today headline on Tuesday, September 15th.  A few nights before, Kanye West had interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for a video of the year award to say that he believed another artist should have won the award Swift held in her hands.  A few days earlier, Senator Joe Wilson interrupts the President of the United States during the President’s address to Congress in order to call him a liar.  Serena Williams, when she disagreed with the call a line judge made during the U.S. Open, threatened the line judge with bodily harm (through a profanity-filled tirade).  Citizens at recent town-hall meetings, meetings scheduled to discuss the nation’s health care reform, have interrupted those proceedings with profanity-laced tirades of their own.

When did we become a nation of individuals where this kind behavior is acceptable?  Or, as my grandmother might have said, “were these people raised by wolves?”  (That wasn’t meant to disparage wolves; they are lovely creatures.)  What has happened to civility?

If public personalities (politicians, athletes, musicians) act irresponsibly (and without significant consequence), doesn’t it follow that the average citizen will behave in a similar manner?  Then, isn’t it easy to believe that if average citizens behave badly (and there are no consequences for that behavior), their children will pick up those traits?
It becomes a vicious cycle that no one seems to want to (or can) stop.

Over the past 10 years of teaching at the collegiate level, I have had my share of students who demanded certain things (higher grades, leniency on some class rules).  And I’ve had my share of students who were convinced that they knew more about the course content than I did.  Today, however, I had my first “I pay your salary” conversation with a student who demonstrated an extreme lack of respect.  This student demanded that I do something differently than I had.  I was appalled at the student’s rudeness, but more than that, I was surprised at the incivility of tone and voice.  When, in the world of higher education, did it become acceptable to yell at one’s professor?

When did this become OK?

If we teach children or if we have children of our own, we know that children learn these boorish behaviors from those who are around them.  Children are born as selfish little creatures, but they can learn selflessness.  They can learn restraint.  They can learn civility.  Their parents can learn these traits, too.

But someone has to teach it to them.

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