Civility Lost

‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style’. Dr. Maya Angelo

Have you noticed our language seems to be getting uglier? Is this just me, am just getting more sensitive in my advanced age. It seems within all the mediums of communications we regularly use, our social interactions, especially where we enjoy anonymity our language and the way in which we speak to one another has a greater level of toxicity than ever before.

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Wizards, a lesson in toxic behavior

The greater  the anonymity the more toxic the language, right from the start. Where once we had at least the veneer of civility, now we are all in with the ugly; cannonballing into the pond, name-calling and nastiness, no regard for the human on the other side of the screen. It is damned near a contest to determine who can be the most offensive within a single exchange, who can pull the bully mantle across their shoulders and strut their obnoxious faster.

I have to ask, what got us to this point? How did we fall so far in our ability to communicate? Did we simply decided to shed our entire veneer of civility and pick up where we left off in grade school? Many of us shake our heads in dismay at the bullying in public schools across the nation; we are concerned our children are damaged by the name-calling and violence in the halls and playgrounds. We should be concerned, but let me ask you; just where in the hell do you think they learn this crappy behavior? Our children don’t pull this out of the air; they do not learn it from television, video games or on the radio! No, they learn it from you and I, they watch us acting like ill-mannered five-year-olds and think, what is good for my father / mother is good enough for me.

Off they go, to pull the hair, trip the nerd or otherwise make life miserable for someone weaker or different from them.

Let us take a quick look at some of the more polite terms we call each other in some of the political discussions I have been in recently, shall we?

  • Rightard
  • Righthug
  • Teatard or Teatarded
  • Repulicant
  • Racist
  • Libtard
  • Dumocrat
  • Environ-mentalist
  • Libturd
  • Libtroll
  • Femnazi
  • Baby killer
  • Race Baiter

Those are just a few after a quick glance through my own page. Nice right?

Don’t misunderstand, I am passionate about the things I believe in and even enjoy a good debate. I find many of the positions of the other side abhorrent, even morally reprehensible. I find many of the people who support them to be equally offensive, their words are a sometime deafening clamor to me.  Despite my personal feelings though, I find the name calling even more offensive than the positional differences. I would rather have a civil debate, one based on facts and even our personal historical context than simply this constant nastiness.

As an example, this is a part of a conversation I had some time back. The context of the conversation was whether the portrayal of the current president (Obama) as a Chimpanzee is the same as the portrayal of the previous president (Bush) as a Chimpanzee. My position was it is not the same because of the historical context of the portrayals. I have had this conversation previously with the person who started the conversation (my brother), on another thread. In this thread, another person jumped in, for context I have frequently bowed out of conversations with him because of the toxicity of his style. He is my nephew though I have never met him, he is in his twenties; both he and my brother are professed Conservatives with a very real hatred of the current President and all things “Liberal”. Despite my brother and my positional differences, we can usually carry on a civil discussion without name-calling. My nephew is not my brother’s son. These are my biological family members who I was not raised with, thus the reason I do not know all of them.

fb conversation

When I tell my nephew to get historical context I do not simply mean about me but also to learn the history of this nation. He is not educated. He is also, as noted, mean spirited and nasty in his communications. Feel free to tell me I was ugly as well, I may have been.

I find myself more often these days, simply bowing out. I no longer have the emotional wherewithal to support these conversations, to defend positions when I am attacked on a personal level. There was a time when I could see past the personal attacks, rhetoric and focus, now I simply say thank you and good-bye.

What is wrong with us?

I ask this of all of us, no matter what side of the fence we sit on what is wrong with us. What part of our compassion, empathy and civility did we drop off at the local Waste Station in the past ten years? I know there have always been issues that fired up our passions, now though it seems just the mention of what side of the very deep chasm you reside on is enough to get those guns roaring.  Nothing it seems can tap down this roar; nothing can extinguish the fires burning across this land setting families against each other in all out battles as if they didn’t share blood, friends in battles of witticism which in truth are nothing more than school yard taunts.

I tell you, I weep for us all. I weep for the lost art of communication, civility and even common courtesy. I weep for us all.

Comments

  1. I hate debates, because most of the time I cannot understand why someone would defend the side I am not on 😉 Debates on Internet are pretty pointless in my mind, because there is no real exchange, just venting. I save my words for face-to-face ‘combat’, I think it is more effective that way and the name calling is minimized. But if it happens the expression on someone’s face puts it in perspective. It’s much nicer that way, well at least I like to think so 😉

    • I think it depends on the person, at least most of the time. Some people simply have no sense of self or other people.

      I usually don’t mind ‘discussion’ on-line, but like you I am at the point now where debate on-line seems pointless.

  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    In that table of names, I didn’t know a one of them!

    Re your exchange with Nephew though – wow, quite an exchange. Not sure what to say!

    • I suspect that is very much an American new standard. Something that has not been imported beyond our borders.

      Not much to say on that exchange. I have simply bowed out of any and all discussions involving him.

      • WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

        It’s regrettable, Valentine. At least he engaged though, I couldn’t help thinking – that is, he received what you said, processed it in some kind of way.

        I like your new gravatar by the way 🙂

  3. In my younger days, I used to be a hot head and would use foul language and raise my voice when arguing. Bit as I became older & wiser, I realized that debating in a calmer tone if voice and being civil in my vocabulary helps get my point across more effectively.

    • Frances, you and I both. I must admit though there are times when my patience is lost (as can be noted with my nephew).

      I find myself more and more these days simply stepping out.

  4. Oh dear, he’s a charmer. Be grateful you don’t have to sit across from him at Christmas. When people start using words as a weapon we’re screwed. From a heavy sighing Piscean.

    • One of these days I suspect we will meet face-to-face, it is only a matter of time. I wonder if this pugnatious attitude carries into his real life, somehow I think it might. Unfortunate really.

      I find the entire problem rather difficult. Opinions, they are great if they are backed by information (well-informed). Personal opinions, well some we should simply keep to ourselves most of the time as they simply do nothing to add to the conversation. I suppose we all have people like this though in our circles.

    • Some more than others Valentine. We just had our election. Its was like tiptoeing through a field of landmines mentioning politics.

      • I think it always is Loon. Politics seems to have taken the place of religion these days. We hold more closely our ideological positions in politics than how to raise our children.

  5. Val, I think the loss of civility has been coming on gradually but really spiraled with the internet and the ability to leave anonymous comments. It’s one reason I pretty much stopped posting on Huffington Post, as I’d get so many mean comments about divorce, which I was writing about. But anyway, I can’t believe your nephew, even if you’ve never met, would talk to you like that. Clearly, he’s not anonymous to you, so why doesn’t he show some decorum? I wonder what his parents think about their rude son. Sometimes I think, we’re the lucky ones. We were born and got to experience a time when we still had civility. We remember the days of yore. Sad to have lost it.

    • I think you are right Monica, we are the more fortunate ones. I am at the point where I simply have no desire to engage. Though I enjoy an interesting debate, there is no one willing to engage in a discussion any longer of the pros and cons of any issue. There is no one willing to monitor their own discussions ot insure they don’t descend into madness. There is no one willing to listen to the other side with an open mind either. I find the entire mess disheartening.

      As to the family dynamic, yes that one is also disheartening.

  6. There has always been name calling in this country but it was good natured in my era and we all laughed together and handed it back. However that spirit of good natured banter has gone as you have stated and name calling is now nasty and has nasty consequences. I wonder if we can only blame it on a lack of education though. Most people these days may not have a PhD but they are well educated so there has to be some other explanation.

    • Agreed Ian. I do believe some of it is lack of education, but it is a specific type of education. We have low information these days, people are lazy, misinformed and mean-spirited. We have information saturation, but that information is sound bite level and 90% of us do not dig beyond to determine accuracy or validity. I also truly believe, we truly do have lower levels of compassion and empathy it is very much a ‘me first and only’, especially here in the US. It is frightening.

  7. Oh, Val . . .

    This is the post I wish I had written! I have also noticed the way people spew out such hatred, such vitriol, without any attempt at the most basic level of decency. People like your nephew just don’t seem to understand that the things they say are cruel and out of proportion to the situation. I have to wonder if he would say those things face-to-face?

    • I don’t know, how he or others would respond in a face-to-face encounter. I think we only have for comparison some of the public protests, the signs that are carried and even unfortunately public figures who say these things. What empowers, is what is allowed. When elected officials and ‘media’ figures can say terrible things, attacking anyone or any group with impunity, why then shouldn’t the rest of us?

      The problem is, we on the Left attack Rush Limbaugh for his horrifying comments about Sandra Fluke. We were right to do so, don’t get me wrong. But we give a pass to Bill Mayer when he makes equally horrifying attacks on Sarah Palin, excusing his as comedy. We don’t hold our side to the same standard, we don’t hold ourselves to the same standard.

  8. Obviously I don’t know your nephew but reading the exchanges here I can see that he is out of order, indeed out of his tree is more to the point, and his attitude towards you my sweet friend absolutely stinks 😦

    This is not debating, instead your nephew seeks only tit-for-tat hostility, I mean
    whether this is for attention or not I do not know but his logic is totally flawed 😦

    Shame on him…

    Andro xxxx

    • But really Andro, I use this exchange only as an example of how so many ‘debate’ today. That this is personal, well it was easy to grab because I knew where it was. Yes, it is personal also thus perhaps more hurtful, but not really any more or less ugly than others these days.

      Shame on all of us truly for descending to this level of ‘discussion’.

      • I understand perfectly, actually I could email you an exchange that I had with someone in a very similar tit-for-tat way, so even though I stand by what I said about your nephew, I do appreciate that this type of happening can be experienced by all of us at some point or other. Me included 😦

        Have a lovely time this evening Val 😉

        Andro xxxx

  9. Agree with you. For all we know, these people may be respectable citizens in their real lives. The anonymity gives expression to their crude inner self and we see their real soul

  10. I don’t understand why a simple good natured comment can descend so very quickly into personal viscous attacks. I have come to the conclusion that there are some sad people out there that enjoy posting negative & inflammatory comments irrespective of how they feel about the subject matter

    • I don’t either. I have seen jokes turn into flame wars. I have seen happy pictures turn ugly. I recently had to post a disclaimer on my personal FB wall, it stated in very clear language I would delete comments and block / defriend people who could not keep a civil tongue in their heads. So far? I have deleted over 100 comments and defriended over 30 people. Some of those were based on the response to that posting. We are clearly regressing, it is strange isn’t it.

      I have no patience for family anymore who I think should show greater empathy. But really, being behind a screen should not suddenly give you permission to pull your knickers down and show the world your ass!

      How are you feeling Dallas?

      • Apart from rolling around the floor laughing at your last comment; well they do say laughter is the best medicine. 2000% better; can’t believe how ill I was but apparently it’ll take a while before my digestive system is restored to normal so can’t even have a glass of wine at the mo which is worse than pants!

  11. totsymae1011 says:

    Interestingly enough, I see the mean girl being exercised in young girls. They will become adults and maybe have children, so yes, they get it from us. The justification is being honest, real or what other leads them to speak without empathy or compassion.

    • I truly do fear for all of us if we continue down this road. While my own family members do fire me up (noted above). It frightens me terribly we have somehow failed to flip the switch entirely on empathy, compassion, manners even.

  12. This is what I do and it might not work for all – Never call an idiot an idiot – as he most likely will respond in kind and that makes one a greater idiot. Praise him and walk away – or simply, walk away 🙂

    • As always Eric, you provide pearls. I suspect it is more difficult not to chastise our family for their bad behavior. I am trying to learn to walk away, especially from my biological family members. It seems I have far less patience for them, the younger generation especially.

      The rest, yes you are correct.

  13. Actually, your Facebook conversation is a clue to why we seem to be losing even the pretense of civility: we escalate. We escalate because a put-down we address to someone else just doesn’t seem as hurtful to the other person, as it seems hurtful when it’s addressed to us. So we try to match an insult to us with an “equivalent” insult for an opponent – which means we actually get into progressively worse insults as the argument goes on. That’s one reason I try not to resort to direct name-calling no matter how much I want to, even when I don’t expect to get insulted in response. And also because I prefer indirect mockery – I can say essentially the same things, but it makes it much harder for the opponent to retaliate 🙂

    • It is in part why I pulled this one, it is between family where there is an emotional element already at play. That was actually the end of the discusison, I removed myself thereafter. Keep in mind, there is more than thirty years between my nephew and I in age.

      You are right though, I shouldn’t have chastised him. I should have simply let it lay.

      • I’m ambivalent on letting it lay. I know that there is about 1% chance that I can change the mind of someone who’s passionate about something that I find totally ridiculous. I do have close family members who are convinced that Obama is a Muslim and Communist. But I realize that when people may be watching/reading who aren’t on either side, their opinion is being shaped by what they see and read, including delusional rants unsubstantiated by any facts. So I might step in.
        But I am not ambivalent about calling people names, no matter how much they deserve them.

        • You are absolutely correct and I need to learn this. Funny I know it outside of my family it is inside of my family I fail. Thank you for your insightful comments.

  14. Val, I arrived at this point about 12 or thirteen years ago, as you know. I unplugged and never looked back. Certain conversations make people mad, so i find it best just to talk about other things.

    • I know Tom, maybe you have it right afterall. Unfortunately I am simply not wired this way. I simply can’t tune out completely. So I need to find a way to stimulate my brain, carry on these conversations with those who like me want to debate the issues without regressing to caveman style discussions.

  15. There is no class anymore. Everything’s become so informal, dress as well as language, people don’t seem to care.
    I shake my head. I get tired of it all. People spewing without using any gray matter.

    • That is it exactly Tess. There is no Class. I don’t mind a bit of informality, I admit to loving my jeans, even my yoga pants. But you are so very right the informality that has entered everythng has depleted our reserves of class, civility and empathy for others.

      You have stated it perfectly.

  16. Val, I am totally in the same place lately… shying away from long online conversations and instead choosing to turn on MS Word or other document to write at my own pace, about what I want to write. It’s getting very tiring out there, with politics and humans on so many levels…

    • I have for many years thought the internet and the open venues were a wonderful way to exchange ideas. It has only been in the past few years it has turned particularly bitter and ugly I have begun to truly shy away. I love politics, I am a closet (maybe not so closeted) wonk truth be told. But now Christy, it is simply so ugly. There is no civil exchange of ideas, no intelligent debate. There is only who can be the meanest, who can be the ugliest. This is not my idea of fun.

      I am with you, turn on WP and Word and say whatever I think.

  17. Hand me a tissue, Val, because I am there with you!

    But tell me, is this man who called you an “utter sniveling moron” the same guy who later claimed he was not insulting you? Damn, youngins are so confusing these days.

    I have a brother like your nephew. Sigh. We are not close.

    • In the original comment Elyse I was actually talking to my brother. In the reply it was my nephew, I had not grabbed his original comment which was simply a nasty little swipe at my political leaning. When he came back with his first comment asking where the ‘attack’ was it is because he doesn’t really see himself as attacking, this is the level of his inablity to understand his own lack of communication skills. My brother will often comment on my threads. When things get heated on my threads, I will shut them down. I will often tell commenters who attack him our relationship and that while we have different political leanings I do not allow attacks, not on anyone but particularly not on family members.

      He on the other hand does not extend me the same courtesy. This is especially true when it is our nephew involved.

      To answer your question, yes it is the same person. Keep in mind, he has never met me. He doesn’t know a great deal about me. This is my biological family and I have had limited contact with many of them over the years.

  18. This post is timely for me, because two days ago, I told my husband I can no longer read comments on popular threads because of the vitriol out there. So I’ll read the news article and move on. I can’t believe the people who spew such hatred online would do the same face-to-face, and if they would, then that frightens and saddens me even more.

    • I think all reasonable people are getting to this point Carrie. It is frightening to me, it means we cannot have discussions about ideas any longer. How do we change anything if there is no exchange of ideas? But more and more the very same vitriol found on-line is appearing in face-to-face debates, protests and other media. This is where it comes from. What we once thought of as bad fringe behavior is becoming mainstream. It is,frightening.

  19. Seems I tied into a brother today. Thank you for the post on my wall, which I enjoyed. Brother’s addition, not so much. I was a bully. After all, it is my wall to defend. 😛
    xxxx

    • Yes, that it is. I just spanked him softly as well. I am at a loss as to why some people believe it is important to have their voices heard, all the time and without thought to any other persons feelings.

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