MARLBORO MUSINGS:  In Memory of Civility

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It’s seems as good as over. Lost. Gone. Toast. Done for.

Whatever you want to call it, it now seems abundantly clear that America has forsaken its moral compass, cast aside the reverent direction of our forefathers, and decided that we’ll probably never be as one again. It sure seems we’re moving in the opposite direction as quickly as we can.

If a recitation of “The Lord’s Prayer” by the First Lady, Melania Trump – the very prayer Jesus taught his disciples, people – prior to introducing her husband, the president, before a speech, as she did this past weekend, can prove as contentious and divisive as it appears it has, and in fact inflame the absolute anger and ire of opponents to the point that they mock and ridicule and attempt to publicly humiliate her, well, then all bets on the future of this society are off.

If the mere mention of the Almighty is going to be this big of a problem, folks, then maybe the old boatman’s adage to silently “pray to God…but row away from the rocks” is very much in order.

How did we get to the point of such insolence and incivility? From so many, to such a degree, with such total disregard for…well, everything and everybody?

But I suppose when you look at the world we’ve been living in for a couple years, I guess it really shouldn’t be a surprise. We’ve been cooking this stew for quite some time.

Think about it; almost all of our social ills today can be traced back to one utterly essential requirement to a peaceful and productive organization of any type: Respect for both people and process.

And we lost that long ago.

It could be someone who is too involved with their cell phone to pay attention to a teacher in a classroom, or a machine on the job. Or the car they are driving, maybe inattentively into your lane. Or perhaps someone who picks on or laughs at the old guy sitting quietly drinking coffee, unaware that he is a WW II vet who spent the prime of his youth fighting for the very freedoms we enjoy, but is now the only one of his friends left and has to drink his morning coffee alone.

Or the people who refuse to show reverence or otherwise acknowledge the National Anthem at sporting events, often conducted before family members of those fighting and dying for this country. Or young folks at WalMart, or a gas pump, or McDonalds, using language you wouldn’t want your mother, your sister, or maybe even your father, to hear. Or thieves stealing flowers off of the graves or desecrating the headstones of your dearest departed relatives.

You tell me…how do you explain the burning of an American flag to a disabled and tearful veteran? How do you console a grieving widow whose dead GI husband’s funeral is being protested, whose combat service which cost him his life, his widow her husband, his children their father, is being mocked or ridiculed? How do you heal the hurt of a long-bullied teen?

That’s the world we decided we were OK living in, the one we “settled” for, instead of demanding better of ourselves and holding our society to a higher standard. And this is what we got as a result.

Whether it is obscene or profane language or attire, or suspect, criminal or just plain mean behavior, there is a certain crudeness or crassness that has somehow become not just accepted conduct, has become not just an intentional way of life, but even something to be proud of in some circles, in certain cases or circumstances.

And we let it happen.

Not to seek to assign blame, because it’s not anyone’s fault – because it’s everyone’s fault. And it’s not a racial issue, but instead more of a generational matter. I’ll be eternally grateful that I was raised by parents and taught by educators who made clear to me that impressing my opinions or feelings upon others was the very height of impoliteness, who raised me to say “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am,” and to recognize that there were some things in life that money couldn’t buy, really important things, like demeanor and dignity and character.

As I once read, a man’s manners are the mirror in which he shows his portrait.

But times – and parenting – have changed, just as they did for our parents, and their parents before them. And now we have this avalanche of information at our fingertips, and “news” – true or not – being force-fed to us 24 hours a day, flooding our brains, and master manipulators amongst us, each seeking to imprint their own individual agenda, school of thought, or theory so deeply into our cerebellum that individual thought becomes almost impossible.

All well and good, I guess; to each his own. Zombie Lives Matter, too, I suppose.

But regardless the circumstances, politeness and courtesy should never, EVER become old-fashioned.

And if you think it’s bad in person, well, you should see it on-line, where folks can hide behind a computer screen. I made the comment in this column a couple months ago that social media had taken an ugly turn since the election. But since Inauguration Day it has gotten downright vicious as divisions have become more marked and some protesters have become ever more emboldened. Ugly and barbaric and savage and uncivilized are terms that come to mind when I ponder the cyber-landscape. It’s a minefield anymore; I’ve actually had to block long-time Facebook friends simply because of the vitriolic and profane language that was being used.

It just seems people really no longer even care all that much about being right as much as they do about being militant and loud, provocative and challenging and in your face, stressing their points thru shock value as much as validity. And all too often it seems that the intelligence of the speaker is in direct reverse relation to the volume or rancor of the words, sadly all too often multiplied by the profanity, cubed.

I’ve also learned that it’s most wise to pick the time and spot of any “hot topic” discussions with extreme care and forethought. It’s become exceedingly difficult to talk to some folks, and engaging in honest and open debate is no longer about stating your facts and possibly convincing someone of your point of view, because that process usually breaks down pretty quickly these days.

We appear to have forgotten the words of Teddy Roosevelt who pointed out that “Politeness is a sign of dignity, not subservience.”

It seems to be more about shock and awe today – without the awe. It appears everyone – from the news media on down – is focused more on drawing attention to themselves, concerned mostly with garnering more “likes,” more clicks, more retweets, or more shares than offering convincing argument or indisputable facts.

I’ll never understand this new United States of Disrespect, where kindness means weakness, and if you’re right, then I have to be wrong.

It’s insane.

But to me, the real surprise is how many think this is actually good for our nation. I guess, we all have our opinions.

And I still truly respect and value those varied opinions; they form the very foundation of America. But while many rightfully exclaim the freedom of speech that makes America so special, it’s also true that those same protected words have the ability to grossly damage and even undermine the ideals put forth by our founding fathers.

And it bears noting that while today’s lack of civility may be viewed as just another part of the modern and constantly evolving world we live in, nothing – and I mean absolutely NOTHING – justifies the impudence and incredibly ill-mannered speech and behavior shown by some towards undeserving and innocent people. Nothing.

The one thing you can always control is your attitude, and it is often a major factor in determining how anything you’re involved in progresses. Or doesn’t. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded us, “Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy.”

We all share the same basic common goals: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With all this talk of revolution and such amid the turmoil, wouldn’t it be nice if we’d first start by being kind to one another again?

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2 thoughts on “MARLBORO MUSINGS:  In Memory of Civility

  1. As a loyal fan of your words and insight, I thank you for so eloquently speaking the sentiments that live in my heart. I intend to share your much-needed commentary, “In Memory of Civility” with everyone within my reach. When we talk of preserving (or salvaging) the grace and character of our society, there is little time to spare!
    Many thanks again from another grateful classmate,
    Nancy

    Liked by 1 person

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