Is the U.S. Still A Civil Society?
Wellness and the Coronavirus
If we’ve learned anything about ourselves these past few months it is that the U.S. is teetering on become an uncivil society. The discriminatory police actions against black Americans, violence in our streets in response to uneven social justice, looters, monument defacers, and those who would destroy private property have shown us the dark side of American life. Add to that the rising murder rates in cities such as Chicago and New York, and you have a recipe for disaster.
How did we get here and is there anything that can be done to reverse course? We’re in the position we are in because of a decline in ethics that has triggered a loss of civility in society. People no longer know how to deal with each other in a respectful way. It’s “in your face” communication especially when one person or group doesn’t like what another person or group stands for. The result could be a “cancel culture” where those not conforming to prevailing group norms via groupthink are punished by those with a louder voice. Typically, this occur on social media and cable news shows.
We’ve lost our ability to be patient with others; to let them express their point of view freely and without regard for any retaliation. How can we be a society that values diversity in our communities and the workplace and not in speech and the expression of thoughts and actions in a tangible way?
The underlying cause of the decline in civility is a lack of kindness, compassion, and openness to others’ point of view. I blogged about kindness last week and said: “Kindness is generally thought of as the quality of being friendly, considerate and generous. A kind person considers the feelings of others, tries to help them, and avoids actions that do harm. Affection, empathy and giving to others are qualities of a kind person.”
These are also traits of a civil person. It can be summed up using The Golden Rule. That is, we should treat others the way we wish to be treated. No one I know wants to be treated badly. Most people I know are genuinely good people but they give in to pressures to act in a certain way that may not be consistent with their underlying character. You've heard the expression: Why Do Good People Sometimes Do Bad Things?
Civil behavior is a sign of wellness in society. It is generally understood that there are five main aspects of personal health: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual. In order to be considered "well," it is imperative for none of these areas to be neglected. We could say that intellectual wellness entails being open to others’ perspectives on matters especially those with diverse points of view. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone on which the rights of American citizens stand.
Social wellness deals with the relationships we have and how we interact with others. Simply stated, we need to develop mutually beneficial relationships built on a foundation of understanding and empathy. I like to look at it this way: We need to learn how to talk to other people; to disagree with them without being disagreeable towards them.
The decline of civil behavior in the U.S. is nothing new. It's just that we are now starting to see and feel the consequences of narcissistic behavior because of the way we have dealt with the coronavirus. Our national leaders send mixed messages about how we should behave during the pandemic: wear a mask, don’t wear a mask; don’t congregate in large groups versus go out and have a gathering where millennials and Generation Zers attend COVID-19 parties with the goal of seeing who can get the virus first. This kind of behavior is irresponsible at its core.
The overall message of the coronavirus in the U.S. is we need to act for the common good. This is why wearing a mask is so important. It’s such a small thing to ask but can save the lives of others and our own if others do the same.
I like to end my blogs with a bit of optimism. However, I can’t be optimistic when my country is, arguably, the laughing-stock of the world. It’s obvious we don’t have our act together. We seem confused at the highest levels of government as to what to do to stop the newest spread of the virus. Some are indifferent towards the reality that the coronavirus is out of control. Those at the top are lacking in basic ethical leadership skills. Why should we follow them? If not them, then who?
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on July 21, 2020. You can sign up for our newsletter and learn more about Dr. Mintz’s activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter .