I Could Be Wrong: What happened to civility?

23 Jan



America's Got Talent - Season 8

Walnut Creek Aquanauts head for America’s Got Talent- Photo and story by Elisabeth Nardi,Contra Costa Times

A few months ago, my friend and I were just leaving the movie theater, walking through downtown Walnut Creek (Northern California, East Bay) enjoying the ideal weather and trying to decide on a good place for lunch. Anyone who is familiar with Walnut Creek knows it as “upscale” with Neiman Marcus, Tiffany’s, Nordstrom, Whole Foods, Pier One, Crate and Barrel, flanked by Nordstrom and H&M, some of the finest eateries and the impressive Apple Store.

IT’S A WEALTHY, CIVILIZED TOWN– Homes here start at  700K (a steal) with a normal price tag in the two-to-three million dollar range.


Walnut Creek epitomizes civility. It’s clean. There are no slum areas. The stores and restaurants on Maine Street are quaint and inviting. The people are friendly. Overall, it’s a very desirable place to live and work.

So, imagine my disbelief when my friend and I saw a young girl, maybe 15 or 16 years old, sitting on the quad of downtown WC, finishing her plastic-cup smoothie and tossing it, cup, top and straw, on to the street. The irony of the scenario was that a public trashcan was no more than three feet away. I started to say something–civil, of course–but my friend beat me to it.

“Are you going to pick that up?” she asked the girl.

We got the “stink eye” but no response as the girl picked up the cup and held it, as if waiting for us to walk away, satisfied that she had done what we asked. But we stood by.

“The trash receptacle is right there,” I said to her.

Another eye-roll as she deposited it in the can with a high school-ish sneer that telegraphed “Mind your own business, bitches.”.

“Thank you,” I said. Then, we continued on. The memory of that cup rolling across the pavement dominated our conversation for the rest of the day. We resolved to embark on working up a business plan to help encourage civility. Big names like Richard Branson and Bill Gates  came to mind for endorsements.

Our Twitter account is @thinknicetwice tries to promote civility and we encourage discourse on how and why civility and kindness have deteriorated.  Is it the internet, corresponding with a decrease in basic social skills? Is it anger, frustration and fear of making contact, engaging in civil conversation? And what’s up with all the hate posts on social media? Does it just make the provocateurs feel better? Are their souls and psyches so corrupted?  Is it so hard for some to say “please”, “excuse me” and “I’m sorry.”

Admittedly, we are from another (60-something) generation but, whether you’re 16 or 61, littering in California brings a mighty hefty fine. At the very least, it is an act of incivility and represents ignorant behavior. This young woman’s infraction was wrong in so many ways, especially in terms of environmental awareness. However, I would chalk her actions up to basic bad parenting and lack of manners rather than standard definition civility.

I’ve seen worse assaults against civility, especially on Twitter and other social media, and I keep wondering when we will revive common-sense in our communication techniques and stop being excessively rude. The “isht” that people post is stressful and hurtful. When I read some of these extremely hateful posts, I envision a person whose body and brain are engorged with a fast-growing bacterial disease for which there is no cure. It’s out of control.

Those in academic and social communities are recognizing the negative impact of our loss of civility–people like Dr. P M Forni a professor at Johns Hopkins who founded the Civility Project. The JHCP is designated on Forni’s website as “an aggregation of academic and community outreach activities…aimed at assessing the significance of civility, manners and politeness in contemporary society.”


In an article by Nicole Jacoby, Etiquette Crisis at Work, a plethora of examples rear their ugly heads.

Quoting Forni, Nicole writes: “”Pet peeve number one among many employees is when people take someone else’s food from the refrigerator. This is so outrageous, it’s funny. But we have to take it seriously.”

“Bitter arguments have erupted on more than one occasion over window shades that are opened and shut without asking, printers that remain empty after they run out of paper and coffee pots that never get refilled. The issue may seem trite, but bad manners are nothing to dismiss lightly. Not only can rampant incivility lower morale, it may influence a company’s bottom line.”


Civility chart

Can’t we all try to be more aware about the words we choose when posting, responding and critiquing someone’s FB or YouTube or Google+ content–especially to strangers. Blatantly cruel and even offensively obscene posts should be toned down or coded.  And seriously folks, holding grudges is really bad for the physical body and the spirit.  Forgiveness is one of the hardest things human beings seem to master, but without it, you shorten your life, damage your brain, and basically rot in negativity.

Yes, sarcasm is effective and often good for comic relief  (GUILTY AS HELL, I am) but do you know where to draw the line?

All cruelty springs from weakness.–LUCIUS ANNAEUS SENECA, Morals

Please visit @thinknicetwice on Twitter and share you thoughts. Or just post a civil quote. All is not lost yet!

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