Is Civility a Lost Art and My Story of Being Yelled at By a Total Stranger

imagesI think we are on the verge of losing an important piece of our society. The art of civility and decency. In my humble opinion, the virtual world has a lot to do with this. Look at the comment section of any news site or political page and what you’ll read will turn your face red. Name calling, cursing along with disgusting references to body parts. Their mothers and grandparents must be so proud!

It’s so easy to comment and be rude when you’re not face to face with another person and you’re hiding behind your keyboard. As a former board member of my kids’ swim team for a million years, I was often surprised when someone that I had enjoyed talking with on the pool deck sent me a scathing email. I guess it was easier for them to vent over the keyboard rather then express their opinion to me in person.

Olive in an uncivil mood.

Olive in an uncivil mood.

What happens when this “no-holds-barred” behavior moves from behind the screen to the real world? Think about that for a few minutes. If every person you encountered in a day had to let loose with a verbal attack. (What does that expression mean anyway? From Merriam-webster online: free of restrictions or hampering conventions <a no–holds–barred contest> This expression was first used in wrestling matches allowing all types of holds.)

I was sitting at our local Street Fair this week, volunteering five hours of my time to register voters. Most people were very friendly and polite. It wasn’t a busy night for our “register to vote booth” because there’s no big election coming up in the next few months. I smiled at people as they walked by. It’s fun to see them smile in return. I was enjoying that.

Then one woman stopped in the middle of the street and yelled at me.

“Why did you give us that look?”

I said, “Huh? Excuse me?” I had never seen this person in my life. I had not seen her walk by.

“You smiled at those people,” she pointed. “But you gave me a dirty look! What was that about?” she shouted at me.

“You’re mistaken, I wasn’t looking at anyone.” Indeed I was lost in my thoughts. I had a brief moment of missing my kids who are away at college.

“You’re very rude! Typical for someone in your party!” the woman yelled at me.

I was a little shaken. Wondering what gave her the right to yell at me — someone she’d never met before. I thought this was a prime example about our loss of civility.

We tell our kids to be kind to other people and we teach the Golden Rule. We punish them if they get in a fight and we are horrified if they are mean to anyone. But, seriously? They learn more from our actions then we care to believe. I have an idea. let’s try to be examples to our kids. Let’s try to be someone worthy of our kids adoration and someone we’d like them to respect. Be kind to one another. And if you can’t be kind, at least be decent.

My daughter and lifetime friends, enjoying life on their swim team.

My daughter and lifetime friends enjoying life on their swim team.

“Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none.”

– Benjamin Franklin

10 thoughts on “Is Civility a Lost Art and My Story of Being Yelled at By a Total Stranger

  1. Elizabeth, you are so right about people feeling freer to leave mean comments when they can hide behind a keyboard and/or remain anonymous. The younger set calls them “haters”, and sometimes, they don’t even attempt to hide – as was your experience at the Street Fair. As parents, we aim to teach and to guide our children, and we must also explain to them that there will, unfortunately, always be those people who choose to share their bad moods…

  2. I agree with you, Liz. Many people feel that they have the right to tell everyone what they think, if they disagree and how they believe “it” should be done–unsolicited, and to top it off, they do not feel compelled to be polite. Civility is a hallmark of an advanced society. Without it we are barbaric. I have spent many classroom hours counseling my students on this matter using examples from literature. As Mr. Jansen used to teach us in government class in high school, “The pendulum swings both ways.” Here’s hoping it is moving back towards the middle and we see a return to polite society and thoughtful discourse soon.

  3. Dear bleuwater,
    As a person of faith a few passages of scripture jump into my mind while reading your account. I wonder if more time were spent reading and learning to respect the will of God, if things would change for the better. At the very least we might be able to maintain some balance of decency. You, in my opinion, are right when you say people are hiding behind their keyboards. Technology makes it easy for people to operate from the shadows… the very place where the darker things exist.

    Proverbs 23:7 (KJV)
    For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.

    Matthew 15:18-19 (KJV)
    But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
    For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:

    John 3:19 (KJV)
    And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

    Ephesians 4:29 (KJV)
    Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

    There are simple truths found in the scriptures… I’ll continue to pray that these same truths make their way into the world.


  4. How many times do we comment online to a subject that twists our stomach for a reply only to see personal attacks then made against us calling us nasty names and belittling us? Their goal to make us look “wrong” and to silence our words. But it does not work. It just makes us stronger. Your story really hits home for many of us. They want to drag us into their gutter of words, but the important thing is that we refuse to enter the fray with them, and stay true to who we are. Enjoyed your story.

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