The death of civility

Several years ago, we wrote that boorish behavior is taking over public discourse.

Whether it was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives shouting “You lie!” at President Obama during an address to a joint session of Congress or an ill-mannered Kanye West ruining an award presentation to country singer Taylor Swift, rude and disruptive actions teemed throughout our society.

Granted, the behavior toward the president was much more serious than an incident at a music awards program. But both incidents illustrate how little respect some people show others.

Little could we see that incidents like those were just the beginning. Certainly, the lessons from our most recent elections have been that the loudest — and most loutish — prevail.

As an in-law of ours used to say, “Who raised these people? Parents are supposed to raise decent people.”

Or as special counsel Joseph Welch asked Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

One can disagree with another’s point of view without becoming boorish, without engaging in personal attacks. Rudeness is a poor substitute for a thoughtful response.

Perhaps it is Paleolithic thinking, but it seems that most of us used to be able to distinguish respectable behavior from the in-your-face antics of entertainers like the World Wrestling Federation or comic book villains. Now, the lines are blurred.

If a congressman thinks it’s OK to scream “You lie!” during a presidential address, exactly what isn’t acceptable anymore? Or, worse, what about a politician who labels his opponents “Lying,” “Cheating,” or “Very low IQ.”

But, then again, maybe these louts are on to something.

Why be thoughtful and courteous when loud and obnoxious gets you more attention?

(Portions of this editorial have appeared previously in The Maui News.)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.

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