If civility was a patient on a TV medical show, it would be on the operating room table with its chest open and a doctor trying to keep its failing heart beating.
The line on the monitor would be nearly flat, with an occasional sign that life had not completely left.
Civility thrived once. It was a kindly soul that would tip its hat, even at those who opposed it.
In an earlier time, civility was sexist. Men would not use harsh language in the presence of a woman and women were polite in their talk about others. Today, we’ll say just about anything in front of anyone.
Civility had active partnerships with respect, manners and decency. Those three are having tough times, as well.
We once were a nation where folks who had differing opinions could get together, have a discussion and come to an agreement that could encompass some of the concerns of both sides. Everyone didn’t get everything they wanted, but it seemed we could find something that would work.
But then a rising star appeared on the scene: anger. It wasn’t new, but it seemed in the public arena, it was not so popular in the beginning. Then, things changed. We began to identify angry people as champions. Suddenly, the schoolyard bully was not our enemy, but our hero.
There are reasons — sometimes very good ones — to get angry. But, some public figures in this world seem angry all the time. I don’t know if it is genuine anger, or an act created for the TV cameras.
Television has allowed anger to evolve to a place of prominence. On TV dramas, the angry guy was often the bad guy. It was the cool headed individual who restored some semblance of order. Then, he either overtook the bad guy or brought him into the fold of the level-headed.
Now, we have glamorized anger. It doesn’t matter if it is a drama or real life; we have an insatiable appetite for watching or listening to angry people. The 24-hour news channels thrive on putting two people in video boxes and encouraging them to verbally assault each other. The same is true on the fake judge shows and programs that purport to fix broken relationships. It’s not a real show today until you see a little hot-headed exchange.
From city hall to Capitol Hill, we allowed anger to overtake civility, and it appears civility is beyond the intensive care unit. It is on its deathbed.
This is not just about what has transpired in recent days in Washington. It is everywhere. This nation, and perhaps the world, has lost its moral compass.
Just a few years ago, I wrote a column about people who use unacceptable language in front of impressionable children. At a recent event, I heard children who could not be more than 8 or 9 using language that would once make a sailor blush. They were saying it to their parents, who nodded in agreement. Throwing the F-bomb at 8 is symptomatic of the whole problem: Learn bad behavior early and it sticks with you.
“Train a child in the way he should go. When he is old he will not depart from it.”
Now, who said that? Dr. Phil? Oprah? No, it was in the Bible. Maybe we’ll dust it off at the funeral for civility.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.