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Slowing down is key to civility

The recent poll results showing that most Americans think rudeness has increased during the past three decades prompts the question of how many people ever think about civility and manners.

If almost 70 percent of people interviewed in the poll admit society is not as gracious as that of the past, maybe there is hope for change back in the other direction.

Among rude and crude behavior mentioned in the survey taken in August was making an obscene gesture while driving, being loud or annoying while using a cell phone, swearing in public, cutting in line and aggressive, reckless driving.

One of the most recent publicized acts that has drawn criticism nationally was when some members of the Northwestern women's lacrosse team wore flip-flops to their meeting with the president in the White House this summer.

The arguments on that issue are parallel with what is appropriate attire at church on Sunday mornings.

Rude behavior can be as simple as not congratulating someone or failing to inquire about a person's health when they have been ill or forgetting an individual's birthday or anniversary. These omissions fall into the thoughtlessness category.

Crude behavior occurs in picking teeth in public, coughing without covering the mouth, talking with food in your mouth, telling improper jokes and talking or laughing excessively loud.

Impoliteness is another descriptor of behavior that steers away from civility. People who are polite say "yes, ma'am" and "no, sir," or at least "yes" and "no" rather than "yeah" and "uh, uh."

Politeness and civility necessitate thinking of others and putting them first. The self-absorbed miss it. Politeness requires urging others to go first, offering the best to them, greeting people and saying "thank you" and "no, thank you."

Amazingly, 93 percent of poll respondents say the problem is that parents fail to teach their children well. Perhaps many of the respondents would put themselves in that category.

American lives are too full. In a way, inventions of the modern world have played a cruel trick on everyone. Transportation modes allow more choices of where to go. Technology has produced more entertainment and information choices. No longer are theaters, cable television or videos our only means of seeing movies. We soon will be watching them on iPods. Jobs are more demanding today, and our disposable incomes allow greater leeway in how we use time away from work.

The result is more stress in all areas of our lives. Consequently, parents may have intended to teach manners to their children, but there was never a regular time when everyone was around the dinner table or never down time.

Civility and politeness flow most naturally from recognition of somebody other than yourself and reacting deliberately with best behavior. The problem is many Americans don't slow down enough to appreciate what's before them.