Whatever happened to Civility?

shutterstock_128215238Who does not prefer civility to barbarism?” ―

C.S. LewisThe Four Loves

Bad behavior in the public square has become a crisis.  Drive-by shootings, bully-induced suicides, and road rage are manifestations of a widespread breakdown in civility between people.  Violent crime, especially of indiscriminate mass execution type shootings, is becoming almost commonplace.

Civility is a noun that essentially means showing respect for another person’s words, actions, beliefs, and demeanor.  We all have many images of civil behavior.  Perhaps the most common historic view of civility is that of Sir Walter Raleigh removing his cloak and spreading it over a puddle to prevent a companion’s foot from getting wet.  We have been told that in yesteryear civility was commonplace in our Congress, with flowery language, and wide sweeping gestures showing respect for the opinions of others.  The children of that era were seen and not heard.

That has changed.  Today there is the contrary image of the video screen full of people shouting at each other, trying hard to keep the other persons from being heard.  Often facial expressions can be more uncivil and disruptive than a shouting match.  The ultimate classic was perhaps  the Vice-Presidential “debate” of 2012 when the Vice President was on camera full of grimaces and a set of disdainful facial contortions punctuating the statements of his opponent.  Another favorite trick is to talk down to another party, belittling their words with sarcasm or technical jargon.

The rapid spread of technology has intensified the breakdown of empathy for others.  It has also left in its wake millions feeling inadequate, illiterate in their minds, trying to cope with the tsunami of change.  It was Albert Einstein who stated some fifty  years ago “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”  This is even truer in the Cyber Age in which we now find ourselves.

So how does one cope with the breakdown of civil behavior in our streets, in our Congress, and in our Board rooms.  How do we train children to be civil when so many stars in athletics, entertainment, and business are uncivil boors, trampling over the rules of decent behavior, often with impunity.  “In your face” confrontation seems to be the norm of the day.  Do we follow the path of least resistance, and follow the “leader”.  Who can we hold up as a hero to our children, as examples for them to emulate?  Who do we hope to be ourselves?

Think again!  Maybe it is not as bad as it seems.  A recent Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice stated  “I don’t believe in confrontation. That seems to me outside civil discourse and we all have to find way to be civil to one another.”   That’s the key.  We have to find a way.

It was William Penn who pointed to the path many years ago when he stated:  “I know no religion that destroys courtesy, civility, and kindness.”

It seems that the breakdown of civility has coincided with the rise of secularism.   The religious mandates to “love God above all else”, to “love your neighbor as yourself”, and to “turn the other cheek” are all forgotten as we love ourselves above all else, seek to excoriate our neighbor, and attack at all times.  Being miserable is not easy.  It takes too much energy.  It’s easy to be nice.  We should all try it.  It doesn’t hurt.  It might even be catching.  There is a famous Spanish fable of the dour disfigured man who donned the mask of a happy-go-lucky youth.  Years later when he died, the mask was removed and lo and behold his disfigurement was gone, and his face had become that of the mask.

Remember that song of our youth.  “Put on a happy face.”  Do it.

Dr. Rocco Leonard Martino


Dr. Rocco Leonardo Martino is founder and Chairman of the Board of CyberFone Technologies Inc and is the founder of several companies. An early pioneer in smart phone technologies and an immigrant from Canada, he now makes his home in Pennsylvania where he continues his interests in technology and his entrepreneurial spirit. To read more about Dr. Martino and his research, visit RoccoLMartino.com.

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  • ct

    Civility; manners, kindness, respect…All seem a lost art in today’s extremely uncivil culture. My daughter told me a story last night. She was on her way home from work on the subway in NYC. She witnessed 3 teenagers (she surmised they were HS aged) verbally and physically harassing an elderly Asian man. My daughter is a white, 5’4″, 110 lb, green-eyed brunette of Irish decent! Not burly or scary looking by any means. She observed this behavior for a few minutes, waiting to see who would stand up for this poor soul. When no one did, with her heart pounding from anger and fear, she yelled at them to STOP, then proceeded to deride them for their rude and uncivil behavior. As a mom who is many, many hundreds of miles from her child, my heart stopped when she told me this. But before I blurted out the many reasons why this was NOT a good idea on her part, I realized something. I would have likely done what she did. She has seen me do random things to help someone in need, without thought for the consequence. Someone NEEDED to do what she did. While my fear for her safety is great, my pride in her actions is greater. I did suggest that she try to avoid such dangerous circumstances in the future, but I know my words likely fell upon deaf ears. So I will pray for her safety, as I do every day, many times a day. Please Lord, send us more young people willing to step up and restore civility to our broken world. Amen.

  • Lee

    Civility starts in the home.Our prayers for our brothers and sisters who may not have home (love, sharing, respect, security, etc.) are truly needed. What a blessing to have others in our lives who know right from wrong, with respect for another human being.
    To be successful is being joyful within ones’ self. Keep up your good writing.

  • cmacri

    I have to agree that civility starts in the home, but a survey of history or great literature shows that civility is not the same as virtue. High society, politicians, and businessmen have always been quite capable of stabbing each other in the back, literally and figuratively, in both the politest and worst of manners. The world has always been fallen and we must cultivate virtue in our own little sphere of influence. The civility will follow. And in the case where one must hear something he disagrees with, or say something that someone else disagrees with, it will quite likely not be perceived as civil, even when delivered with the greatest of tact and best of intent.

  • Caitlin Marchand

    I especially like your point about uncivil facial expressions. I have noted that with regards to debates and talking heads. If you are jeering with your body language then you belie any civility in your words. It’s like facial sarcasm.

  • Mary Carter

    Parents are not parenting anymore. The day care has the children and they are not being taught respect and compassion. Notice how we have changed from my mother and I to me and my mother, as an example. Me is first and foremost and the other guy is last and also his opinion and his feelings. We say and do whatever pops into our head even though it may be hurtful or even malicious We are not safe on the streets because someone wants to play the “knockout game”. I am 75 years and really tired of our world today, never could have imagined such an ugly way of life.