Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Dose of Decency

Recently the news has been filled with reports of something that can only be described as “people being rude.” Whether it’s a tennis star threatening to do horrible things to a line judge, a slightly drunken performer stealing the microphone at an awards banquet, or a United States congressman shouting “You lie!” at the president, we can’t assume this all just happened overnight.

Why do people in the public light seem to have so little respect for each other? We’ve been leading up to this for years. Like the Roman arenas of two millennia ago, we seen to enjoy gathering together and watching people get ripped apart; this time, however, it is not by lions, but by other people.

TV talk shows of the 70’s and 80’s have evolved into slugfests on camera. People throw chairs and issue death threats, all the time listening as the audience cheers them on. Any checkout line at any major market is littered with racks full of juicy “gossip,” most of it false, reporting the illnesses, failures and faults of our celebrities. Somebody must be buying this or it wouldn’t continue to be there.

Rules of decency and decorum, it seems, are for other people. They are for the “other” political party, the rest of the world, for “ordinary” people, not people like me. “You see,” we rationalize,” I had the right to do what I did. I don’t care what anybody else thinks.

Maybe we all need to go back to kindergarten. The teacher used to tell the children, “If you say something bad about someone, I will require you to follow it with three good things about that person.” I once knew of an organization that, in their planning sessions, required someone to say three positive things about someone’s idea before trying to “shoot it down.”

It appears that “positive” just doesn’t sell. People would rather see someone “voted off the island” or verbally butchered on a stage in front of a hostile audience during a morning talk show. Many of us feed on this, and then wonder why that person behind us in the checkout line was so rude to us.

Our rudeness is bleeding over into real life. In one city, a man slaps a woman’s child for crying in the supermarket. In another city, a minister says he’s praying for the president to get sick and die. Elsewhere, a teacher gives her students a writing assignment that involves such violence and abuse that it is better not to print the subject in this newspaper. And lest we forget, it was only a few years ago that the press praised a movie in which President George W. Bush was assassinated. The movie even won awards. In my own humble opinion, that's just a little more serious than "You lie!" though neither one should be praised. It seems that no institution is immune from this virus that is spreading through our culture.

It’s time for a dose of decency. Maybe the “sane” ones in our culture need to take the lead. If you’re one of those people, it can start by not honking or tailgating someone that cuts us off in traffic, or by letting the rude customer go ahead of us in line; after all, neither of those things really cost us any time or money. Maybe it’s not letting our kids hear us verbally abuse those people on the TV screen. It’s time to make an intentional effort to be decent. No one really wants a return to the days of the Roman Circus Maximus. Let’s think before we talk. Maybe we can even set an example for those athletes, stars, and national leaders who are supposed to be setting an example for us.

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