One would have to be living completely off the grid, away from all forms of communication, to be unaware that there is a problem with civility in our society. In their latest survey, “Civility in America VII: The State of America,” Weber, Shandwick/Powell Tate and KRC Research show that three quarters of Americans believe that incivility has risen to crisis levels. I think we can all agree that this survey is probably a very accurate portrayal of the problem.
When asked the question, “What is making civility worse?,” 75% of respondents felt the number one cause of incivility was politicians. Coming in second at 69% was the internet and social media followed by the news media at 59%. Since these three areas are clearly in the realm of public discourse, what can we do to promote civility within them?
We know that politicians, social sites and the news media all are sensitive to public opinion. I believe that we, as citizens, should be quick to speak up wen we hear or see incivility in these areas. A polite phone call, email, comment or even a letter will let the offending party know that we find their remarks offensive. If they get enough feedback, they will hopefully, think twice before using uncivil or inflammatory rhetoric when speaking about a group of people or a problem we face.
Another extremely effective way to show our disapproval of incivility is the vote. We can vote against those politicians that use their bully pulpit to denigrate others. We can quit following social sites where incivility is rampant and we can stop watching television programs where incivility is the norm.
The survey also showed that 94% of people believed that they were always or usually polite and respectful to others. If there is a problem with incivility in the public discourse, and there is, then we are not being truthful with ourselves. Individually we must be contributing to the problem in one area or another, and we must take a good hard look and ask ourselves where are we part of the problem.
How well mannered are we when we are driving on the freeway? How do we react when we have to wait in line at the store? What do we do when someone accidentally crowds into our personal space in an airplane or a subway? What is our reaction when we hear a crying baby in a public place?
These situations test the limits of our patience and are hotbeds for incivility. If we take a deep breath before we react, we can help change the atmosphere around us. We can respond kindly and with a civil comment that will not exacerbate the situation we find ourselves in.
If we want to promote civility in the public discourse, we will have to take steps to do it on a public and personal level. We will have to be willing to make our voices known to those serving in the public arena and we will have to hold ourselves accountable in the situations we find ourselves in daily. One person can make a difference and several people can make a large impact on the level of incivility in our society today.