You Can’t Legislate Civility
Civility is a matter of ethical behavior and can’t be legislated. We can’t regulate uncivil behavior in part because it would never stand the free speech requirement in our Constitution. In other words, we can’t legally prevent someone from being a jerk.
The ancient Greeks identified characters of behavior or virtues as the basis of ethical behavior. By possessing these virtues an individual gains the knowledge and wisdom to act in accordance with underlying ethics standards. To become an ethical person takes practice – it becomes a habit by repeating ethical behavior over and over again until it becomes ingrained in our very being.
I have previously blogged about the loss of civility in society and politics. President Obama has called for civility in politics likening Washington to the "Tower of Babel" – a place where sometimes the sound of God’s voice is lost. "There is a sense that something is different now, that something's broken, that those of us in Washington are not serving the people as well as we should. At times it seems like we're unable to listen to one another, to have at once a serious and civil debate." The President believes the “erosion of civility” brings division and distrust. I believe it does much more and threatens the ethical core of society. We can’t continue to call each other names and go out of our way to make others look bad. Are you listening MSNBC and FOX News pundits? It is disgraceful what goes on in talk radio and television. The rude and sometimes crude behavior sets the wrong tone in politics and society and pollutes civil discourse. Impressionable youngsters learn it’s OK to call out another person for “perceived” bad behavior. I believe this has led to serious issues in society including offensive postings on the Internet, offensive YouTube videos, and even cyber-bullying – an issue of a previous blog.
Research on Civility
If you think America is going to hell in a hand-basket, you are wrong. It’s going to hell in a toxic container that includes our moral compass that was long ago abandoned by society. A new survey on uncivil behavior in America, released exclusively to POLITICO, indicates that nearly every American has been messed over by someone else, and most of us are messing back. Some 86 percent of Americans say they have been victims of incivility, most commonly while driving (72 percent) or while shopping (65 percent.) About six in 10 Americans admit they themselves have been rude. The survey, taken of 1,000 Americans in May, was conducted by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate in partnership with KRC Research.
A vast majority of Americans (91 percent) say that globally “incivility has negative consequences for America … is perceived to be harming America’s future, hurting its reputation on the world stage and preventing it from moving forward.” On the other hand, you mess around with us, and we’ll send a drone to take you out (a bit extreme but it makes the case). Some 85 percent of Americans think politics is becoming increasingly uncivil, and 74 percent think incivility in the 2012 presidential race will worsen. Some 35 percent blame the media for this, and 27 percent blame political party leaders.
More than four in 10 Americans have experienced incivility in the workplace, with 65 percent blaming their bosses for it, and 59 percent blaming fellow employees. Younger employees were blamed by 34 percent and access to the Internet by 25 percent. Older employees did best, blamed for incivility by only 6 percent. Ah, the good old days when a door was held open for another and youngsters gave up their seat on a bus for the aged and less abled.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the survey was that in which people were asked to assign a degree of incivility to 25 American institutions. Here’s the list from least civil to most civil.
Political campaigns: 80 percent
Pop culture: 75 percent
Media: 74 percent
Government: 73 percent
Music industry: 71 percent
American public: 70 percent
Professional sports: 68 percent
Schools: 63 percent
Republicans in Congress: 60 percent
Supporters of the tea party: 60 percent
YouTube: 58 percent
Democrats in Congress: 56 percent
Blogs: 55 percent
Fox News: 51 percent
Social networks: 49 percent
American business: 48 percent
Twitter: 38 percent
MSNBC: 37 percent
CNN: 32 percent
The New York Times: 29 percent
President Obama: 28 percent
Workplace: 28 percent
Oprah: 17 percent
Friends and family: 13 percent
Conversation at dinner table: 7 percent
The survey quotes Johns Hopkins Professor Pier M. Forni as saying what is needed to create civility in America are the three R’s: respect, restraint and responsibility. I would add to that caring and empathy.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 22, 2011