Catholic Family News - June 2002

The Rapid Decline of Civility

by Robert H. Goldsborough

Reprinted by CFN with the permission of Robert H. Goldsborough and the American Research Foundation.

In the mid-seventies, when I was daily driving one hundred and seventy-five miles round trip to my DC office, I installed a citizens band "CB" radio to help keep track of potential traffic delays. It was good company as well as helpful on those otherwise monotonous treks until truckers started using their CBs to vent-----via what seemed like interminable profanity-----their road rage. Within a few years, the CB fad died out; I missed it, but I certainly did not miss all that trucker trash-talk!

Since then, however, something much worse than trucker trash-talk has taken over: everyday people, especially the youth, who curse with each breath and drivers who cut you off in traffic, cursing, and giving grossly vulgar signals as they do it. I realize now that the truckers of the seventies were merely harbingers of many today who would push civility totally out of our socialization. Some say the loss of civility is an omen of the impending collapse of civilization.

The growing lack of manners and civility has become so pronounced that Johns Hopkins University has instituted a "Civility Project" headed by P.M. Forni, a crusader against foul language and gross non-manners. In February, St. Martin's Press released Forni's book Choosing Civility in which he complains that profanity has become so omnipresent that youngsters don't think it's wrong, possibly because many adults including parents and teachers fail to correct them. Forni believes the older folks either don't notice, don't care, or simply feel helpless to do anything about it.

Forni writes that an "alarming sign that incivility is on the rise is the increasing acceptance by adults of cursing by youngsters." He asserts that profanity and bad behavior have become so pervasive that the majority of people just ignore the rudeness that has permeated the office, the school, the marketplace, the playground-----everywhere.

According to Forni, other groups which monitor society's folkways and mores have reached conclusions similar to his. For instance, the Florida-based National Alliance For Youth Sports, monitors unsportsmanlike behavior from reports of numerous nationwide recreational organizations, and has documented a tripling of bad behavior at sporting-events over the past decade. A prime example of this outrageous behavior occurred in January when the father of a hockey player became so enraged that he killed his son's coach during a heated argument and later was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Forni blames our frenzied and stressful lifestyle for creating a generally angry people. "After September 11, there seemed to be less honking on the roads," says Forni. "We huddled for a while. But then there was a quick return to incivility." Educator and principal Tom Higgins of Walton High School has noticed, "an appreciable increase in incivility, both among students and parents. You see people in general talking back to the teacher more, arguing more." This incivility has become so universal that, according to a report I received from one of the teachers, even in a conservative Catholic girl's high school some parents are rudely talking back to teachers and nuns. Forni writes that there is more tolerance for profanity today than at any time in previous generations. "Frankly I do not see this trend reversing itself," is his pessimistic prediction.

As to the cause of this widespread use of profanity and growing lack of civility, Timothy Jay, a psychology professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, reveals in his book Why We Curse that some children begin using profanity as early as age 1 when they have developed the ability to absorb words they hear from television and parents. James O'Connor, founder of Chicago's Cuss Control Academy believes it might be possible to slow "this escalating trend toward increased incivility," but it will take time and effort. "What we and the current generation have overlooked is the value of civility, consideration for others and good manners."

What is always overlooked is that profanity is frequently interlaced with blasphemy-----the use of the Lord's name in vain-----a grievous offense against God and a violation of His second Commandment. Most observers point to television/movies as the primary culprit with peer pressure a close second.

The usually successful antidote of Christian conservative families is no TV at home, good reading habits, good prayer routine, and absolutely no profanity by parents or friends.