Jewish World Review March 5, 2004 / 12 Adar, 5764

Russell P. Friedman

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Where in the h-ll has civility gone? | People aren't very nice to each other anymore.

When I was a lad there was civil discourse among people who held differing views. What happened? Where are the manners my mother, my teachers, and others taught me?

What is referred to as "trash talking" in the sports world has entered the mainstream. It's no longer possible to hear a dialogue between a republican and a democrat without hearing bi-lateral ad hominem attacks. And I'm talking about folks chatting over dinner, not just the professional pols on CNN's Crossfire.

As the internecine warfare amongst the democrats winds down and the intramural verbal warfare between the parties ratchets up, I began thinking about the shift in civility I've observed in my lifetime.

I recall being at a hockey game in Los Angeles, when the great Wayne Gretzky still played for Edmonton. I remember being aghast as most of the 16,005 fans chanted in unison, "Gretzky Sucks, Gretzky Sucks!" I watched the fathers leading their sons in the chant. The display carried the imprimatur of the sponsoring arena, and the full-piped accompaniment of the house organist.

It was sad to witness such a display of bad manners, bad sportsmanship, and bad parenting. But I couldn't stand up and implore the masses to come to their senses, to remember their manners. It would have been as daft as holding my hands up to stop an avalanche.

What happened to civility? I can just hear it now, "Civility Sucks, Civility Sucks," followed by the organ chords that intone, "Da, di, da di ta dah- Charge!"

To get the bad taste out of my mouth, I have to watch the televised replay of Prime Minister's Questions from the English House of Commons. The height of civility breathes its last in that hall. Good manners abound at absurd but delicious extremes. A member often starts a sentence on Tuesday and finishes it on Wednesday. I have watched in awe, one of those polite meanderings, which never makes a personal assault, yet contains a withering condemnation of a belief or a principle.

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"Would the right honourable gentleman, given his penchant for the occasional embellishment, in light of the recent unpleasantries caused by his mis-guided vote on the matter of welfare for recumbent hedgehogs, whilst at the same time holding a view that might well have held sway in centuries past, be inclined to grant that the subject in question, though exhausted by debate, is one which the right honourable gentleman might consider, given that the lateness of the hour precludes further research, and might imply that the honourable member was willing to allow an emotional consideration into this matter,...?"

What'd he say? I dunno...but I sure like the way he said it.

The last act of public gentility I witnessed was the debate between Senator Joe Lieberman and now vice president, Dick Cheney. Now there was some civility. There was honourable discourse. There was rapier like jousting with thrusting and parrying a plenty, but no personal slander. No "Cheney Sucks." No, "Joe's a jerk." None of that.

The current plague of incivility, seems to be a causal element in ratcheting up the rhetoric that leads to bloody action. The national and international political scenes are proof enough of that.

Tough times for honorable people. It's no longer acceptable to be agreeably disagreeable. From discussions on smoking to abortion to religion to politics, there is no longer any reason or reasonability. It's my way or you're dead wrong, or just plain dead.

In recent times in the Middle-East and other troubled spots, saber rattling has given way to tanks rumbling, and words have become invitations to funerals. There is no more civility, just more funerals. I believe that we have participated in and enhanced these debacles by allowing ourselves to create entertainment out of our comments to and about others.

Where in the h-ll has civility gone? Civility is dead and so are more and more people who have died because we have lost the ability to talk to each other. We live in the age of communication, yet there is none.

The dead people are very dead, and will stay that way. When are the rest of us going to wake up?

Funerals Stink - now there's a phrase we'll have to live with.

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Russell P. Friedman is Executive Director of The Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation in Sherman Oaks, California [ ], and co-author of "The Grief Recovery Handbook & "When Children Grieve. Comment by clicking here.


02/13/04: The Heart Has a Mind of Its Own
12/31/03: Grief is Not a Partisan Issue: The Year in Review from a Different Point of View
11/11/03: Tuesday Morning at Eleven
10/30/03: Raging Fires --- Broken Hearts

© 2003, Russell P. Friedman