Decadent self-indulgence can destroy America
With greater urgency and frequency than ever before, respected pollsters from Barna to Zogby and distinguished writers warn us that civility is rapidly deteriorating in America. Numbers of emerging Web sites carry the same message.
Without a change of direction, our children might not blow-up their bodies like fanatics, but just as surely if the trend continues, their minds and futures will explode with learned arrogance and unkindness, sometimes bordering on savagery.
When Ramble, the eldest son of Troy Phelan's second wife in John Gresham's, "The Testament," looked at his stepfather "old Troy splattered on the bricks," he was neither shocked nor repulsed. Like many of his peers, he "thought the scene was rather cool." Gresham suggests as "a child of TV and an addict of video games, he found the gore a magnet."
In societal evolution, people usually develop from self-serving tribalism toward a well-ordered, more civilized society. History illustrates when that process peaks, the direction reverses, however. We must not forget the deterioration from exemplary self-denial to the decadent self-indulgence and cruelty of ancient Rome -- and the consequences.
There's no reason to believe we will be an exception to history; so a "reality check" in the "good old U.S. of A" is past due. At some point, in the interest of self-preservation, leaders and laity in civilized society must declare "enough already!"
I suspect that's what happened recently when David Stern, commissioner of the National Basketball Association, suspended his players for brawling. It would be nice if a similar lesson in civility could be taught to the not-so-funny judges for their unmitigated deprecation of youngsters struggling to be stars on what some allege is the "most-watched" show on television. It's particularly needed because they model reactionary behavior for millions of children, whether they want to be role models or even believe they are. That's just the way it is for public figures. It might be entertaining, but it's also endangering.
Other bad signs
The people who put together the "good news-bad news" advertisements for a prominent national insurance giant also could use sensitivity training. Compassionate people are always uncomfortable with any influence that even role-plays disrespect, discourtesy and deprecation as acceptable in civil society. We simply cannot afford to be insensitive to others.
Although I've criss-crossed our nation for more than 50 years and experienced the cultures of more than 30 nations, I've yet to find a rational basis for believing "rude, crude and lewd" are necessary hallmarks of macho men, fulfilled women and rock 'n' roll kids. There is "a more excellent way."
A number of states already have put together legislation to encourage civility and character education. "Show Respect" is the first of "Eight Points of Civility" promoted by the Erie Chamber of Commerce in Erie, Pa. The chamber recognizes that "the business climate ... is inextricably tied to community-wide, comprehensive commitment to civility."
The Santa Cruz Bar Association in Santa Cruz, Calif., has successfully secured a commitment to civility from a host of attorneys and judges in its district. It would be refreshing if our own community would do the same.
Our school systems could challenge both students and faculty to refrain from vulgarities and reinforce civilities, even as an experiment for a short time. Every institution should do the same; not as a matter of law, but as an appeal to higher idealism. It doesn't seem too much to expect that our churches become the front-runners in our pursuit for a more excellent civility.
The charm of a "yes, ma'am" or "no, sir" -- and similar civilities -- might not come as easily to Northerners as to Southerners, but it surely beats the profane alternatives in which society has been wallowing, and somehow applies a mysterious healing potent on social interaction.
Stand up for civility!
"Thank you," "please," "may I" and "pardon me" shouldn't be foreign phrases in the "land of the free." After all, we also are "the home of the brave!" So, we should have the guts to stand up for civility. Nobody always does just like he wants to do or what makes him feel good. At some point, civility makes a claim on everybody.
Of course, civility ultimately is a matter of the heart. Our Lord made that clear when he said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." (Matthew 12:34).
Civility can't be legislated, but it can be cultivated. And reinforcing one's spiritual center won't hurt. In fact, the Apostle Paul explained, "As touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another" (1 Thessalonians 4:9).
Civility is "taught of God." Somehow an instinct to be kind to our neighbors does result from an appropriate alignment with God. Self-respect and concern for others are the twin rails that guide the relational train toward harmony, but one's spiritual center is the obscure "third rail" without which the whole process is threatened.
On this premise, Paul counseled, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:31,32).
I don't think we can go wrong with Paul's counsel. It's certainly worth a try. As a former rabble-rousing bigot whose passion was death to the different, he ought to know something about achieving civility; and we ought to be smart enough to listen.
The Rev. Guy BonGiovanni, who holds a doctor of ministry degree from Logos Graduate School in Jacksonville, Fla., is president of Life Enrichment Ministries Inc., Canfield.