A Decline in Civility or just a selfish request 4 respekt?


There's a lot to say on this subject, but for the moment, I would rather mention only the recent CTV documentary "The Decline in Civility".

civility-or-civic-virtue-horatii-oathAs I was watching this documentary narrated by William Shatner (yes, the same guy who did the cover of “common people” Alien), I could not help thinking that this is my exact experience living in Canada. Seen as a polite country, Canada has definitely undergone an erosion of this public good, under my very eyes and, possibly with my own contribution. The filmmakers are not the only people noticing it – even TVO (episode in the playlist below) has an episode devoted to manners. Here’s a blurb on the documentary:

Curtin reveals a multitude of factors that are conspiring to make people less gracious to fellow human beings. Daily stress, a lack of education about good manners and technology all play their part. As Curtin says, "How can you say hello to someone when you have an iPod in your ear?"

Curtin's dirt on discourtesy includes everything from a young pregnant woman left standing on the subway to airline passengers going ballistic in the skies and people being berated by anonymous comments on the Internet.

"The biggest shocker for me was coming to Toronto to shoot. I thought people would be so polite. It wasn't like that at all," Curtin told CTV.ca. "I don't mean any disrespect to Toronto. The same thing can be said about most big cities today."

In fact, according to a 2007 Reader's Digest poll 60 per cent of Canadians felt advances in technology have made people less courteous over the past 10 years. More than 83 per cent of poll respondents felt that seniors (60+) were the most courteous age group, with those under 18 the least so.

Curtin correlates the boom in society's bad behaviour to a desire to avoid trouble in a strife-filled world.

"People don't want to get involved," says Curtin. "If a drug-addled bum came at you on the subway I suppose you could argue that it would be safer to avoid him. But why would you ignore a pregnant woman who is the very picture of vulnerability? Is she going to sock you in the chin?"

As Curtin says, "It really comes down to people no longer caring about connecting with other individuals around them."

The filmmaker discusses working with Shatner, but it’s hard to tell if the actor was nice or he himself is being polite / has selective memory:

The fee Curtin paid for Shatner's services shocked him almost as much as the rudeness he documented in "To Hell with Manners!"

Curtin won't reveal the final figure paid to the venerable actor. "It was far in excess of what I had budgeted for. And I got a deal," Curtin laughs. "I know his agent. They got me Shatner at 50 per cent off."

Curtin flew to Los Angeles to work with the 77-year-old star. "I knew William could be difficult and didn't like doing second takes -- something you always do in a documentary," says Curtin.

While waiting for Shatner's arrival at a L.A. studio Curtin asked the wife of a cameraman if the star was in a good mood. Her response? "He just ran out of here saying people are f*****g rude."

"I was lucky," laughs Curtin. "William vented that spleen before he got to me. He was a pleasure to work with."

I’m a bit concerned that my own predilection to agree with the documentary’s premise has more to do with the natural process of ageing than it has to do with objective reality. Pensioners muse to each other “the don’t make [anything] like they used to”, and “kids these days – they don’t know NO RESPECT [sic]”. Could it be that I myself “feel it” more so as a result of my own needs of socialization and friendship being unmet?

One of the scenes shown in the documentary takes place at an elementary school or kindergarten, where the educator gets two kids to act out an encounter with a pregnant woman. She gets the sitting kid to stand up and offer his seat, then asks the “pregnant” kid “what do you say?”. The kid is confused and says “yeah, sure”, while the educator is somehow disappointed: “no, you say thank you!”.

Yet this is a problem noticed by Matt Zoller Seitz in Salon.com and Kirsten Richardson in [The New York] Observer.com. According to them, it may very well be a sign of increasing immigration from non-Anglo countries, where instead of “you’re welcome” people use “de nada” or “not a problem” and “thank you” or “please” are a sign of weakness.

In CBC’s Definitely Not The Opera show, Sook-Yin Lee talks about how we teach kids to lie from an early age, when we get them to acknowledge a disappointing gift so that the giver feels good. Yet those little lies are extremely important, as they form the basis of our social interactions and allow us to get along with each other. In adolescence, we rebel and embrace rock’n’roll, punk, goth, rap, grunge or whatever music happens to be cool at that moment and completely annoying to our parents. We demolish their social rules and want to establish our very own. Yet to live life in a permanent revolution is taxing and we get tired eventually. We transition to old age and start complaining that nobody gives us the respect we deserve, forgetting, most of the time to dispense it ourselves onto others.

Our increasing alienation and reliance of cold, impersonal technology for interpersonal communication seems to push us into a downward spiral, where the decreasing human contact makes us feel more stressed, we feel we’re getting less sympathy and respect from others and in return we start to give out less ourselves. Initiatives such as “Join Me” or “Free Hugs” or “pronoia” are meant to break the cycle, but how many of us actually embrace them?

It seems to me that when we complain about “not enough civility”, we always want others to give us more respect, but do we give others at least as much as we ask for? Is it possible to have a balanced approach to civility, or are we bound to always feel short-changed in this respekt (sic)?

In his excellent book, Choosing Civility, Dr. Forni talks about a study done in the 1950s at Harvard:

Healthy young men from two Harvard classes of the early 1950s were asked to fill out a questionnaire that would assess how close they were to their parents. A check of their medical records 35 years later yielded intriguing data. One hundred percent of the men who had reported low levels of closeness to both parents had been diagnosed in the following years with serious diseases such as heart disease and duodenal ulcer. Among those who had reported good, warm relationships with both parents only 47 percent had been similarly diagnosed.

As for coping with rude people, he offers the SIR strategy:

  1. State what the problem is. For example, if someone is talking loudly on his cell phone and it is bothering you, let him know he is bothering you.
  2. Inform the person she is bothering you, but don't berate her. Tell her, "When you do that, it prevents me from relaxing, and I would like to have the opportunity to relax. Do you think you could refrain from calling unless it's an emergency?"
  3. Request the behavior be changed. "Say it very calm with poise, and project an aura of power and repose," Dr. Forni says. "The poised alternative is more effective in the long run."

Are all the following reports true, or are they just a sign that we’re getting older and / or less “assertive”?

Sources / More info: wiki-civility, joinme-wiki, kaos (clip), flickr, tv-eh, tyee, candotc, throng, tsun, ctvn, ctv-nr, oprah, hour, civility experts, walrus, alternet, useless-knowledge, mcgill, cfp, guardian-pe, y!a, dnto-thank-u (mp3), DNTO-liar, wsj-texting, prweb, salon, nyo, free-hugs, wiki-freehugs, pronoia.net, wiki-pronoia, bmartin-lies, tvo-manners (clip), i-c-rude-ppl, emily-post, np-ep, jh, yt-civility


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