Civility vs. Disrespect

We used to hear a Canadian radio show called “As It Happens”, on public radio. During part of it, listeners could call in to comment on topics from the show. They had to identify themselves and their city. Some of them disagreed strongly with topics discussed on the show (“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I have to disagree.”), but they were invariably polite, civil, and spoke with humor and humility. They never spoke in anger, swore, called anyone names, or called them stupid. The fact that they were civil and sometimes downright funny led listeners to think about the points they had brought up, and compare them to different opinions.

Contrast that with typical comments seen at the end of virtually every online article. Or every public discussion in the US, it seems. It is a hallmark of American manners that we typically lack any measure of civility. Our comments on topics of discussion are disgusting. People never identify themselves. Even when they agree, their comments are often peppered with insults, gross obscenities, and name calling. If they don’t agree, it’s much worse, with coarse expressions of racial or cultural prejudice, vile obscenities, and ugly insults. Absolutely no respect for the other person or persons, no recognition that this person just might be a rational person herself, someone who has the same concerns but came to a different conclusion.

The question is whether Canadians have civilized manners and Americans don’t, or is it just anonymity.

The difference for the greater part may be that these Americans remain anonymous, and apparently feel that gives them license to behave abominably. It apparently also allows them to say that those who have different opinions are lesser persons who should be insulted with vulgarities. But I doubt the Canadians are so obnoxious.

It’s more than something Miss Manners could address, because it is a primary lack of respect, a total lack of feeling for others. It is ingrained attitude, deep-seated prejudice. Such failure to respect others has become so common, and so many people carry guns, that minor disagreements quickly escalate into shootings, often with senseless and tragic outcomes. We read about them almost every day, particularly after weekend drinking: argument outside a night club turns into a shoving match; one party pulls a gun; murder happens.

Take also such things as the infamous European cartoons that got Muslims so exercised. As far as I know, Islam is the only religion where volatile individual followers so commonly feel justified in killing someone for what they have personally concluded is an insult to their religion. This appears to be true even though all of the Abrahamic religions adhere to the same ancients books, all of which call for the murder of individuals who violate some unsupportable belief. Christians, for example, are encouraged to kill anyone who works on the sabbath, but I’ve never heard of it happening.

I’m not sure that better manners on the part of those who manage to insult Islam would be the entire answer. Some of those so accused appear to be quite innocent of malice, yet this doesn’t seem to matter. They must die, because the murderer has concluded, all by himself, that the holy book from many hundreds of years ago says so, even though that would be the crime of murder and makes no sense.

No matter what, murder cannot be forgiven. It is defined as premeditated killing of another with malice, and there can be no place for it in any civilized society.

There is no excuse for lack of civility in our dealings with others, either. Yet we are all guilty at times of failure to respect others, and for that reason we need a bit of humility to recognize our own failings, a degree of patience in our dealings with people having a bad day (or year, or life), and some perspective so that we recognize the triviality of all such matters.

As someone wise said: Don’t let anyone give you their problems.


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