The Lost Art of Civility
It’s the time of the year when I reflect on both personal matters and those related to the cause I represent – bringing ethics and civility back to society. There’s a lot to think of with respect to the latter. This is especially true with the impeachment of President Trump in play, in part due to the ethically questionable actions he’s taken. Moreover, we continue to see violence in our streets and schools; fights that break out in stores and even airplanes; vulgar language used almost everywhere, especially on the internet; and a general disregard for others with whom we disagree as evidenced by the cancel culture.
A lot has been written recently about our ‘cancel culture,’ where someone says or does something that's captured online and then gets denounced online by those who object. The goal is to cut the initial messenger off from influence. The guilty party is shunned from society. Being cancelled can cost friends, coworkers, a job or even a career.
The cancel culture in society is a manifestation of an us versus them mentality where opposing groups look for dirt on the other. The idea is to make them look as bad as possible so the doers come out looking better. The idea that we should tear down another person or group that we don’t agree with is a classic case of our inability as a society to discuss matters openly, without prejudgment. It’s easier to criticize then build greater understanding. That takes work and a thoughtful approach to civic discourse.
Readers of my blogs know that I believe in certain core ethical values: honesty, kindness, empathy, personal responsibility, and integrity – which is the whole of an ethical person. There are other values as well but the idea is to treat people the way you wish they would treat you – and that includes respect, which seems to have disappeared from society.
I do a lot of television and radio interviews and am always asked what can be done to reverse the trend of declining ethics and civility in society. It’s a tough question to answer because our decline as a civilized society has been happening over a long period of time. We can blame President Trump for it, but the fact is it started before his term. We live in a society where all-too-many want to see our leaders in the face of opponents and making disparaging comments about them. I’m saddened that no one on the campaign trail seems to care about these issue and the debates to date have not touched upon it.
In an article on incivility in America by Ray Williams, he talks about the Roman Empire, saying:
“The Romans, in creating an empire that expanded around the world put great emphasis on civil virtue. The Romans believed in honest debate, civility in the streets and treating adversaries with respect, even if defeating them in battle. Historians looking at the fall of the Roman Empire have tried to find reasons why the great Empire failed. Many see the loss of the civil society as a major reason for the fall of the Romans. People stopped treating each other with respect. The Empire itself stopped treating those they conquered with respect. What was once a society of mutual respect for all became a society of overconfidence of complacency. The very values that made the Roman Empire great were the very values that were left behind. The Romans in creating an empire that expanded around the world put great emphasis on civil virtue. The Romans believed in honest debate, civility in the streets and treating adversaries with respect, even if defeating them in battle.”
Think about this with respect to today’s society in America. Does it sound familiar? Are we headed down the same road as the Romans?
There is a famous quote: 'Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.' I hate to be a pessimist at this time of the year but fear we are going down the road where we’ve not only lost our moral compass but have smashed it to pieces.
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 23, 2019. Dr. Mintz recently published a book, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior, that explains how doing the right thing and being a good person can enhance well-being. The book is available on Amazon. Visit his website and sign up for his newsletter, follow him on Facebook and Twitter.