Is civility over?
In times as turbulent as these, it’s a question that demands we first acknowledge there's a problem.
Rudeness is hardly a new concept. Whether it’s interrupting someone who’s talking, failing to wave thank you to another driver or setting off jarring fireworks that annoy your neighbors, people have been boorish for generations.
Lately, though, it feels as if it’s getting worse, doesn’t it?
The adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” feels like it’s been kicked to the curb. Social media hasn't helped much either. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we’re now in a world where it’s OK to be keyboard warriors, bashing complete strangers in a public forum without fear of repercussions.
It’s a stressful era we live in, due, in part, to the current political climate where the name calling and back-and-forth have devolved into a fierce disdain for anyone with opposing viewpoints. The phrase “respectfully disagree” is as archaic as the VCR we’d mock someone for using.
Cell phones are miracles of modern technology, but they may also be innovations of isolation.
Sitting by idly while your dinner companion checks his phone is as much a part of the dining experience as debating whether or not to get dessert. Enduring people who chat loudly on their phones on mass transit is as much a part of the commute as rush hour traffic. Gritting your teeth while someone watches a video in public without wearing headphones is as much a part of life as tweeting about it.
The growing absence of manners is inescapable. Cordial behavior has collapsed like a condemned house under a wrecking ball.
Here's a story that was once told to me: A man on a bus grew so irritated that the women seated behind him and in front of him were talking loudly on their phones that he decided to passive-aggressively blare music from his phone, an uncivil response to an uncivil action, disturbing even more people. It’s one-upsmanship, sponsored by 4G.
There’s already a certain anxiety inherent in our e-lives. From FOMO (fear of missing out) to seeing how everyone else on Instagram is living their best lives, we are bombarded by reminders of how we’re coming up short. Rudeness is now a virus that’s permeated all corners, adding another layer of confusion to how we should be. Social media has spread the vitriol; phones have amplified its expediency.
We can whip ourselves into a tizzy of anxiety and sleepless nights just by wondering if we’re keeping up with our friends. Maybe losing our cool was inevitable because we've opened Pandora's Box. Closing it may be the real challenge.