Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Return to Civility

There are times when I am overwhelmed by the goodness of people. When tragedy strikes, and communities pull together to save the day, it moves me to tears.

But then there are times that I just wanted to scream, "What is wrong with you people?!" This last week has been one of those times.

Taken separately, any one of the public displays of jerk-holery from the past week would just seem like a random sample of rudeness. But when you mash them all together, it seems more like a sign of the end times of civil discourse.

It started with Joe Wilson shouting at the President (and yes, for the record, I was equally uncomfortable when Bush got booed by members of my party during State of the Union addresses. I have been in education a long time, and I strongly believe that when a person of authority is speaking formally to a group of people, said people should take a big, fat dose of Shut The Hell Up.) Then Serena Williams threatened to shove a racket down a line judge's throat or something along those lines, then Kanye West engaged in what Enterainment Weekly has dubbed "puppy stomping" by robbing sweet little Taylor Swift of her Moment Like This.

Taking all those things together, I just have to wonder what has happened to us. When did rudeness become the norm, and politeness the exception?

I know there are those of you who think, "Joe Wilson--big deal. You should see the British parliament in action." And while that's true of that legislative body, it generally isn't true of ours, particularly during a special televised joint session. And I remember John McEnroe and his infamous tennis outbursts. And I am familiar with Kanye's work; he did, after all, create the most awkward moment I've ever seen on live television during what was supposed to be a warm and fuzzy telethon.

What strikes me about this latest rash of nastiness is that it seems a little sharper and a little more brazen than what we usually see. With Serena, it seemed out of character. I don't follow tennis much, but I've seen the Williams sisters play enough to know that they play fair. And Joe Wilson's outburst seemed a little more shocking than the usual partisan booing simply because it was one lone, angry voice that made even members of his own party look uncomfortable. And Kanye...well, the VMAs are not exactly known for decorum, but there's no precedent for someone grabbing a mic from someone giving an acceptance speech and telling them they don't deserve said award. There are times and places where we expect bad behavior (NFL football games come to mind) but none of these times and places really warranted it.

Some people are saying it's telling of the national climate right now: people are angry. Others are saying that manners have been going downhill for a long time and what we've seen in the past few days is just the inevitable outcome.

I think those are valid, but I also think there's something larger at work. I think we've jbecome incredibly self-centered as a society. I don't even see it a generational trend; it seems to be hitting everyone. It's all about us. We feel we have to express everything we're thinking and feeling as soon as we think it and feel it because we're just that damned important. I blame it on Twitter, and Facebook, and (yes, I am guilty) Blogger. Heaven forbid we wait until it's our turn to talk, or pause and process our response into something polite and appropriate. We think the world turns on our every emoticon. In a world where there were also people in the audience rabidly texting and tweeting during the President's speech and the VMAs, and where some of those comments were just as harsh as what Joe Wilson and Kanye said, are the outbursts themselves really any worse?

But, that's just me. To what do you owe the recent public examples of people behaving badly? Or does it not even register as a blip on your rudeness radar?

1 comment:

Rick said...

You're right. Class, manners, civility, courtesy...call it what you will, we see less rather than more of it in today's society. In Joe Wilson's case, though, I think he was genuinely motivated by exasperation. Kanye West, Serena Williams, etc., those people were just being jerks. And to Wilson's credit he called the White House that night and asked to apologize to the President personally, and stated publicly that his outburst was wrong. The next day the President publicly accepted the apology and said we should move on from it (unlike the House leadership). And unlike Kanye, I doubt Wilson will do what he did again, but Kanye will probably always be a jerk.

Also, Obama was actually lying (or willfully ignorant), but I won't take up comment space with that :)