I remember my community’s sadness and mourning that washed over us on June twelfth this year. The tragedy at the “Pulse” nightclub in Orlando, Florida represented both a breakdown of civility and an outpouring of civility. The use of violence is symptomatic of a breakdown of civility and respect. How the victims of violence, and society react also reveal whether civility is or is not present.
Mass shootings, terrorism, and war are what happens when civility is absent. What happens in the wake of acts of violence reveals whether or not there remain seeds of civility in a society. Fortunately, a good share of people still exhibit compassion and caring through their speech and actions towards violence’s victims and their families.
The tragedy of Orlando is not unique. The incident is important to me because the violence was aimed at people like me. It was no longer just another news story in the long line of news stories about man’s inhumanity to man. Orlando, and the continuing epidemic of terrorist acts around the globe are what happens when civility goes away.
Once in awhile I stumble across a video only to find grown adults screaming at each other. Not only do the participants act up in uncivil ways, but the hosts and networks that encourage these embarrassing quarrels pander to our base emotions by continuing to air the chaotic encounters.
Whenever I come across such spectacles, I click them off. I reveal my age as I recall my years in broadcasting and journalism. The broadcasters and the guests treated each other with the utmost courtesy and respect. Civil behavior was an utmost ingredient in each and every encounter. Civility was especially important when journalist and interviewee strongly disagreed in principle. On air bickering was exceedingly rare.
Vulgarity and cursing were strictly prohibited in television and radio. The only public displays of it occurred in nightclub standup comedy acts. Even then, the cursing was used sparingly. I probably come off as quaint when I remark that use of the “F” word is no longer shocking, but banal. Its overuse not only reveals a lack of thoughtful creativity, but a deficit of civility. Standup comedy, videos, podcasts, and movies that rely mainly on uncivil speech become tiresome quickly.
I’m not being priggish about strong language. I understand that it is a way of expressing strong opinions. It is most effective when used sparingly. Like too much salt in a soup, too much salty language makes the dish unappetizing. A little bit adds zing and goes a long way.
Uncivil language is a symptom of a lack of self-respect and ones lack of respect for other people. It isn’t restricted to vulgar words, it shows up in character assassination and the negative political advertising we’re being subjected to this year.
There is the lack of basic manners and etiquette that I’ve addressed a few times on this blog. No, I’m not a neo-Victorian. I just think that dressing in neat, clean clothes, practicing basic good manners, and using mild language are social lubricants. Civility is the most effective way of showing kindness and respect for others.
It costs nothing to be civil. Civility generally pays dividends in reciprocal kindness and courtesy. If reciprocity is not offered in return, civility enables one to better weather those uncivil people we’re likely to encounter each day.
At its root, the word, civility, comes from Latin, Middle French, and Middle English. Civility shares the same eytmology with civilité, civilized, and civilization. The original meaning of the root word indicated “member of a household”.
Just as there are necessary, effective ways to behave peacefully within a family unit or household, we need civilité to live effectively and peaceably in society at large. Like it or not, we have social obligations towards one another. Whether we define civility as courtesy, politeness, culture, or good breeding, civility is the catalyst to civilization.
Civility is valuable to individuals, groups, nations, and globally. We need to once again remember its value. Where there is civility, there is a lessening of ill will and violence.