Sunday, September 20, 2009

Conversations on civility

The president at our college has decided that he is making it his mission to have civility as the center to ongoing discussions and activities on campus this year. And I am VERY happy about this. The director of student accounts and I have both been working at the college for 9 years now, and for about 8 years we have been trying to get this to happen.

Our offices are often on the receiving end of a good deal of hostile and uncivil behavior. Granted, whenever you involve money in a discussion, it often elevates the anxiety of the participants and that has a negative impact on the conversation.

But it is more than that. People are increasingly comfortable being rude. They are perfectly willing to tell a person who is ostensibly in a position to help them that they are stupid or incompetent, and to swear colorfully at them.

And why shouldn't they think it is okay to behave this way when we have members of Congress yelling "You lie" at the President of the United States during a speech to Congress. Or we see professional athletes threaten to stuff a tennis ball down the throat of a line judge because she didn't like the call. Or we have musicians interrupting an award ceremony during an acceptance speech to yell that someone else, who wasn't even nominated for that award, should have won. When rude, uncivilized behavior is modeled for us on national television by a variety of individuals, we begin to accept that as normal behavior.

Not that this anything new. We have seen professional athletes behave badly for decades. Plenty of politicians have not been known for being the most upstanding people of integrity through any part of our history. And well, musicians? They have been smashing up hotel rooms and misbehaving in public for as long as I can remember.

But that doesn't mean we should be okay with this. We should expect more of ourselves, our children, friends, neighbors and customers. When a parent is particularly rude on the phone, I have had to explain that we won't accept that kind of abuse, and if the parent cannot be civil, we won't be talking to them.

I am looking forward to having this be a point of focus on campus this year, and I hope that the students buy into it. It won't work if they don't.

In the meantime I am going to try in my own life to find a way, on a daily basis I hope, to actively incorporate civility into my attitude toward other people. I think I am a fairly civil person to begin with, but by making a conscious effort, it should become even more a part of my life, and hopefully Bob's and Cooper's.


Audubon Ron said...

That means we can't invite our brother to bite us.

dubiousMa said...

I've actually been practicing civility for a long time now. My mother and grandmother taught me that to be civil is to have class. I want my 8 yr old to learn the same thing. I'm just disappointed that we must have "conversations on civility."

Chip said...

Meh, she can invite me to bite her. We owe each other SOOOO much. I think she's still paying me back for practicing dentistry on her once upon a time.

The apparent lack of civility is likely a function of 2 things: internet anonymity (which promotes aggressive language) and/or hearing every stupid thing every stupid person does in every backwater eddy of the known universe leading to an APPARENT rise in incivility rather than just knowing too much about the stupid crap every one was already doing unbeknownst to us.