The polarization of the U.S. citizenry and of Congress along with the increase in slander and libel by popular commentators and political leaders are stains on the fabric of our political system and a violation of the basic principles of our democratic republic. The decline of civility is not only annoying, it presents a serious threat to the survival of our democratic experiment. The basic social threads that bind the nation together have become frayed to nearly the breaking point.
In my opinion, much of the problem of the decline of our civil mindset began with the anonymous nature of the Internet and the promotion of the newly minted derogatory term, “political correctness”. To accuse someone of being politically correct became an expedient way to denigrate polite, civil behavior and attitudes towards women and minority populations. The phrase continues to be used to poison public discussion and policy.
Historically, civilized society has been integral to the makeup and preservation of great nations. It is basic wisdom that to treat everybody fairly and respectfully is of social benefit and important to national integrity. Understanding human nature and allowances for error are some of the basic ingredients of a civil mindset and its manifestation as civility.
Although the nation and the world frequently fall short in this regard, keeping a civil mindset is a moral attribute that pays dividends in interpersonal relationships and personal peace of mind. Not only is civility towards others the right way to behave, it engenders and promotes individual ethical behavior. Therefore, it seems that learning and promoting an ethical mindset would greatly help society heal from our divisiveness, unethical communication, and toxic behavioral habits.
When I watch people on current events programs screaming at each other, ignoring basic rules of debate and politeness, I see an absence of the civil mindset among the quarreling parties. This type of misbehavior has become so popularized and normalized that the nation and the world are in deep trouble. Civility is not the absence of critical analysis nor formal debate. The civil mindset enhances how we conduct our freedom of speech and discussion of important issues. When ethics are abandoned and patronizing, insulting discourse is substituted, then rational problem-solving ends. Civility depends upon the ability to contain one’s emotional rage. Without civility, the end result is the danger of society falling under the sway of demagoguery, treachery, and tyranny.
We need to steer the national debate towards calmer waters and seek ethical, wise leaders who will once again guide the ship of state towards common ground. As citizens of this country and of the world, it behooves us to embrace ideas of thoughtfulness, kindness, and civility regardless of others’ political opinions, and places in the social heirarchy. Civility is not merely a matter of proper ettiquette; it is the matter of reclaiming the power of individuals working in concert to debate the common good. Civility is the way to manifest the highest values that are basic in our democratic republic. Civility is not social conformity, it is acceptance of our differences and appreciation of our similarities.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the 17th U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona. “I see good ideas on the Republican side as well as the Democratic side. You have to return civility and statesmanship to governance. If you don’t do that, it doesn’t matter what portfolio of issue you’re pushing, nothing is going to get done.”