Where has civility gone?

I must preface this writing by stating, it is not political nor does it have anything to do with our First Amendment right of “Freedom of Speech.” It has one purpose and one purpose only. “How do we talk to and treat each other?”

For those who have forgotten or, perhaps, never knew what “Civility” means – according to Webster’s Dictionary it means politeness, courtesy, a polite act or expression.

With my work in the schools, I hear how some young people talk to each other. I used to wonder, “What happened? Why can’t they talk to each other with respect?” The answer was as easy to come to as adding 2+2. They learn it from adults.

Turn on the news at any given time or listen how leaders talk to each other. Fine examples. Or, even listen how adults talk to each other when they disagree.

We will never agree on everything or anything, for that matter. The reality, we shouldn’t. Thinking people will always have different ways of solving problems and different things that are important to them. That’s okay. The key word there is “thinking.” We should be listening to other people’s ideas, whether we agree or not. If we disagree, we should not respond by yelling or name calling.

Several years ago, a business friend of mine and I had a disagreement on how to conduct business. Neither way was wrong, just different. In the end, we agreed to disagree. He conducted his way and I conducted mine, each the way we felt comfortable. We could have yelled, got angry, held grudges but we didn’t we went on as adults.

We wonder what is wrong in the schools and society. Why do people treat each other as they do? Look in the mirror. I contend, if we begin treating each other with respect, even those who think differently than us, and if we treat each other with civility, we will all feel better. Perhaps then, we can learn to sit across from each other, have an adult civil conversation and we may even learn – we aren’t that different. We may learn we have more in common than we think.

A couple of years ago, I was speaking to a teacher who was having her students debate issues. They were to pick a topic, decide their opinion, research it and prepare an argument to defend their thoughts. I shared an idea with her. I suggested, when they are done with their debate make them go back and debate the same issue from the other side.

This will give them a better idea of the issue but, also, a better idea why people feel the way they do. It may even make them better, open-minded thinkers. Helping them learn to think for themselves. They don’t have to agree, just understand and appreciate we can have different opinions. We can have different ways of coming to conclusions and different ways to accomplish goals.

When we were born, we were given the ability to be free thinkers. We have been given the right of “Freedom of Speech.” With both of these comes responsibilities. Act like adults, respect the fact others may feel differently and treat each other with “Civility.” If we learn to do this, we will be much happier and be able to accomplish much more.

Editor’s note: Mr. Reed writes on topics of interest from his home in Cambridge.

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