Death of Civility

By | November 3, 2010

(I’m pretty much stealing this post from Walt. I didn’t ask him. Is that a breach of civility?)

So the Today show is doing a series called “Is Civility Dead?” Below is the initial segment. Sorry to those outside the US – it’s from Hulu (I couldn’t find it on YouTube). And for those in the US… only available until Sunday.

I totally agree with everything in that segment.

Did incivility exist before the internet and mass media? Absolutely. Now, though, it’s become popular and ubiquitous. As a parent, that makes my job of instilling civility harder.

So what do we do about it?

Again, as a parent, I can control to some degree the amount of time and content I allow my kids to consume from both the internet and mass media. As young kids that’s not much of a problem. As they get older, that will become harder as it becomes less about control and more about instilling wisdom and discernment as they are more able to understand what it is they are seeing and whether it’s appropriate. And then there’s the participation angle – what are their friends seeing and emulating both online and in school? How does that influence my child’s behavior?

And where are the positive examples? Hopefully you have some in your life. Thankfully I have some people in my life whom I can point to as examples of people who always act with civility, even when we disagree. But where are they in mass media? At the moment I can’t think of any. I’m sure there must be a couple. To steal from Simon and Garfunkel, “Where have you gone, Mr. Rogers? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” Mr. Rogers not only served as an example of civility, he directly addressed the issues surrounding it. We’ve got 6 billion channels these days… maybe someone should put up a Mr. Rogers Neighborhood channel. And everyone should be forced to watch at least one episode per day. 😉

Seriously, though… what do you think? Do you agree that as a society we’re less civil than we used to be? If so, what do we do about it?

2 thoughts on “Death of Civility

  1. Arjan

    I don’t believe people have become less civil. We’ve been around for so long that it will be hard to convince me that we changed this much in say the last 50 years or so. The only thing people can do is to don’t stop communicating with their children. And try to teach them ‘right from wrong’ etc.

    I never knew what this hole Mr Rogers meant, first time I heard about it, was in a Blood Hound Gang song and it took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t just some random guy called mr Rogers without a reason.

  2. Jeff Post author

    I do think people are less civil in public than they used to be. That’s not to say that we were paragons of civility at any point, really, but I do think it’s become much more socially acceptable within the relatively recent past to be crass, rude, etc., than it has in the last, say, 200 years or so.

    I never really gave Mr. Rogers’ visibility outside of the US much thought before. I guess I assumed he was being exported to other English speaking countries, but since he was on public-supported television here, there was probably no driving force to get that done.

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