September 21, 2009

The Death of Civility?

Many people have commented lately on a growing lack of civility in our public discourse. Is it true and what are we to make of it?

Lack of charity is nothing new. It has been with us from the beginning. This doesn’t excuse sin, in all its various incarnations – including intemperance, selfishness, and incivility - are impermissible. It does suggest, however, that the dearth in social graces and the coarsening of our culture is being accelerated by a number of forces. These include communication technology, the twenty-four hour news cycle, cults of celebrity that exonerate bad behavior, and a creeping permissiveness that desensitizes us to acts of inhumanity and rudeness – including our own.

The internet, blackberries, instant messaging, camera phones and more were unimaginable a generation ago. We now have the ability to receive and respond to information immediately. In our professional relationships, to take one example, if we waited days before responding to an email it might be considered rude. Instant messaging is a prime example of receiving information and reacting instantaneously. The key here is that we “react” to information that is brought to our attention quickly rather than responding to that information in measured tones.

Our culture has doubtless been coarsened by the bad behavior of cultural icons for whom getting arrested or acting crudely is a career move, not a career end as would have been the case in the past. The mass media is all too willing, and at times seems to encourage a star’s self destruction.

How are we as Catholics and as Christians to respond? We must affirm that every person is made in the image and likeness of God. Once we understand this we realize that certain behavior is beneath our dignity as human beings. Once we understand this we realize that treating others with incivility is also beneath their dignity.

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