Is civility a lost art?

I wrote this post six years ago about getting yelled at by a stranger. It really unnerved me. I asked if civility was a lost art. I’m sad to say that I think things have gotten worse over the years. Not better.


I 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 who 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 cat 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

What are your thoughts about civility? Do you think things have gotten worse over the past six years when I wrote this? Do you think the anonymity of social media and hiding behind our computers or phones adds to it?

31 thoughts on “Is civility a lost art?

  1. Civility is losing ground to obnoxious rude childish behavior. It is too bad that we do not even appreciate someone doing their civil duty. I still open door, allow a person with one item to go ahead of me in line at the grocery store, just smile at everyone. Even if I don’t feel like smiling, you never know how much that simple thing could mean to someone.

  2. I think it’s gotten WAY worse. There are no boundaries. There is no conception of how to treat others. And it’s only going to get worse

  3. This was a very unpardonable thing to do. But people have become quite intolerant and judgmental. I’m sorry you had such a nasty experience.

  4. Most people who have such reactions like this have an issue within themselves. It is never about you. It took me a long time to learn not to take things like this personally. I worked in retail for 13 years and I really wished I had known about it back then.

  5. I think the isolation due to covid is adding to a decrease in socialization. Also, because the stress levels are higher, people get upset more easily. We all need to be more patient with each other…and take etiquette classes 🙂

  6. It’s funny, my family will sometimes ask me “What was that look for?” and I have no clue I had a “look.” Sometimes I think people just want to start trouble for no good reason. It is upsetting to have something like that happen, especially if there are other people around.

  7. I think McWriterson has it totally right, it’s not about you, it’s about the person yelling and their own inner turmoil. I see it everywhere these days, I think we’re all dealing with a lot, and it leaks out when we’re frustrated, disappointed, or anxious. If you can identify what the yeller needs and calm their anxiety it can help. Great post E, hugs, C

  8. In general terms civility and good manners in our society is a thing of the past. It’s a terrible thing as we become more like animals. I’m sure this incident was extremely upsetting. There are several reasons why we are moving in the direction we are as a society, and your points are accurate.

  9. My resting face is rather grumpy looking, sort of a down turn to my mouth. I suspect aging hasn’t helped that any. Now after hiding behind masks for so long I have to really work on consciously not looking mean and scary as a general rule. As to the person in question- totally uncalled for and as others have noted- an issue with her sadly, not with you.

  10. I agree with what you said. But there are still, thankfully, civil people in the world. We all have an ugly side, and some people get better at expressing themselves when behind a keyboard because they turn off their filters.

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