The Consequences of Incivility

Back when I was a kid and we travelled in horse-drawn carriages our parents never hesitated to wash out our mouths with soap if we used crude language or said things that were otherwise inappropriate. I was always glad when Mom reached for the Ivory rather than Zest because Zest left a really bad aftertaste.  We learned quickly to not use such language, or at least to be careful of the company in which it was used.

I often long for those days (the civility, not the soap). To be clear, I use off color language on occasion when I’m alone and (for example) running a chainsaw, watching college football with my wife, or in the company of my very closest friends. I try very hard to not use language that others might find offensive in public or on social media. There are certain words I NEVER use in public because my Mom and my Dad (who could use salty language with the best) taught me better.

So you can imagine how I cringe when I read comments on Facebook or on news websites. It is like some people are willing to grab a megaphone and shout obscenities from the highest mountain top and they could care less who is reading those comments. To be honest I’ve removed as many people from my Facebook news feed for dropping the F-bomb as I have for obnoxious political posts. And I often overhear such language in restaurants or walking down the street.

I know I sound prudish but those who know me well know better. I’m just offended by public displays of crudity. Have these people no shame or sense of propriety? Did their moms not know how to effectively use a bar of soap? It seems that good behavior and manners are no longer important to a portion of our population.

My unscientific observations have been validated by studies of workplace behavior. In a poll lasting fourteen years researchers found that 98% of America workers had experienced uncivil behavior in their workplace and the study found that incidents of incivility essentially doubled in ten years.

2013 survey found that 70% of Americans believed incivility had reached crisis levels. Respondents stated that they experienced incivility, on average, 2.4 times per day. Further, 81% of the respondents believed increased violence was a consequence of incivility. Interestingly, more than 90% of each generation (millennials, Gen Xers, boomers, etc.) believed there was a civility problem in our country.

Of course this incivility has increasingly worked its way in to American politics. And yes, I know American politics has always been nasty, but the 24-hour  media outlets and social media exacerbate the problem. We hear every crude or outlandish comment immediately and repeatedly until the next news cycle pushes it aside only to replace it with more of the same.

And the troubling thing is that we as a society seem to accept it. Even worse, we excuse it. In my mind that leads to excusing all sorts of other unacceptable behaviors. In fact it is almost as if no behavior is forbidden, no language or behavior is condemned. And what’s strange is that quite often those whom one would expect to most loudly condemn such language and behavior are precisely the ones excusing it. And yes, I’m referring to those who continue to excuse the totally unacceptable crude behavior of President Trump, Roy Moore, Bill Clinton, Kathy Griffin, Al Franken, and others. If you excuse any of these people you are part of the problem. Psychologist Jim Taylor said it best: “…the loss of civility is a step toward anarchy, where anything goes; you can say or do anything, regardless of the consequences”.

Here are a few behaviors I consider uncivil: bullying (including internet bullying), cutting in line, road rage, humiliation, overt racism or sexism or any other “ism”, intimidation, disrespect, rudeness, belittling, lying, gross sarcasm, exaggerating, using crude language in public, inappropriate tweeting.

And the consequences of incivility are tangible.

  • As many as 25% of parents have changed a child’s school because of uncivil behavior.
  • Incivility in the workplace leads to lower productivity, lower job satisfaction, and employee burnout. There is also evidence that uncivil behavior is often returned in kind, leading to a downward spiral. Rudeness leads to other rudeness which eventually destroys the work environment.
  • An unhappier home life. Research indicates that when people work in an environment of incivility they often bring that anger home.
  • Incivility can devolve into violence. According to the Department of Labor there are 1.8 million incidents of violent behavior in the American workplace each year, for example. And there’s no way to count the number of violent incidents resulting from road rage or other uncivil behavior.

If you want to read the depressing truth about the prevalence of American incivility you might want to read through this recent survey on the topic.

So what do we do about it? As I’ve said many times previously, stop excusing uncivil behavior.  About 75% of Americans believe politicians are the main drivers of unacceptable behavior, and I agree. We should expect our leaders to display respectful behavior.

About 69% of Americans believe social media promotes incivility, so block people who use crude language or who belittle or bully others. I no longer follow some people of all political stripes because of their obnoxious use of social media. The same is true of news media outlets; don’t read the comments where internet trolls spend their days trying to start fights.

Finally, kindness and civility begin with the individual. I know students on my campus get tired of it, but I never meet anyone on the sidewalk or in the hallway without speaking to them and giving them a smile.


I used a quote by Jim Taylor earlier. Here is the rest of that passage: “Civility is about something far more important than how people comport themselves with others. Rather, civility is an expression of a fundamental understanding and respect for the laws, rules, and norms (written and implicit) that guide its citizens in understanding what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. For a society to function, people must be willing to accept those strictures.”

I hope we can regain that respect and willingness.






Should we Just Accept Hypocrisy?

We are all hypocrites to one degree or other. I know, for example, that I preach objectivity and open-mindedness but there are some issues on which my views are pretty well established and almost unchangeable. I also follow a pretty healthy lifestyle in  general but will sometimes eat or drink things I know I shouldn’t. I think we all are guilty of similar hypocrisy.

What I want to discuss is blatant, over-the-top hypocrisy that has apparently become part of our daily political and social discourse. It’s almost as if the truth and honesty have become secondary. Examples are numerous.

  • “Insider trading” occurs when someone trades stock based on information unavailable to the general public. It has been illegal for Americans to engage in insider trading since 1934 when laws were passed after the stock market crash. Guess what?  The laws did not apply to members of Congress and members of both parties apparently benefitted from inside information  prior to the 2008 stock market mini-crash. A 60 MInutes report in 2012 found Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Republican leader John Boehner among the offenders and The Wall Street Journal identified 72 members of Congress who benefitted. After the activity was exposed Congress passed a law restricting insider trading by members of Congress and their staff. Great! Except Congress later repealed important parts of the law by “unanimous consent” on a Friday afternoon after most members were gone for the week. Yep…that is hypocritical. You may remember that Martha Stewart went to prison for insider trading.
  • While addressing a United Steel Workers event in 2010 Nancy Pelosi (House Democratic Minority Leader) said “We’re talking about addressing the disparity in our country of income, where the wealthy people continue to get wealthier. That disparity is not just about wages alone. That disparity is about ownership and equity. It’s all about fairness in our country.” Finally, a political leader doing everything she can to fight the broad gap in wealth disparity! Except that Pelosi’s 2015 income disclosure places her in the top .0001 of Americans (yes, that is the top 1/10 of the top 1%). She lives in a multi-million dollar townhouse in DC, owns several other properties, owns a vineyard in Napa Valley, and more.
  • Of course President Trump’s hypocrisy is also well known. On three occasions he tweeted criticism of Barak Obama for golfing, yet in his first 30 days in office he played golf six times for a total of 26 hours on the course. In 2013 Trump tweeted that it was “unbelievable” that taxpayers were funding Obama’s vacations, yet his three trips to Mar-a-Lago in less than a month cost taxpayers $10 million (not to mention the amount spent sending his son and others on “trade missions” to cool locations). In 2012 he tweeted that “the electoral college is a disaster for democracy” but after winning the electoral college while losing the popular vote he tweeted that “The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!”.  I could write a hundred posts about President Trump’s hypocrisy, but I’ve previously let readers know how I feel about him as a president and human being so I’ll let it go.
  • In 2008 Barak Obama accused President Bush of being “a president who only saw the people from the window of an airplane, instead of down here on the ground trying to provide comfort and aid” because after hurricane Katrina Bush flew over damaged areas rather than landing and visiting New Orleans. Then last year when Baton Rouge and other areas were suffering from historic flooding and damage Obama remained on Martha’s Vineyard watching fireworks and playing golf.
  • OK. One more from President Trump. He has repeatedly criticized federal judges who ruled against his decisions. He called one a “so-called” judge, disparaged another for his Hispanic name and heritage, and said judges would be to blame if terrorists attack us again. Even Neil Gorsuch, president Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, responded that “When anyone criticizes the honesty, integrity, the motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening, I find that demoralizing, because I know the truth.” If President Trump finds judges inadequate we could expect him to appoint exceptionally qualified judges when these vacancies occur. Right? Well…he has now nominated  36 year old Brett Talley, an Alabama attorney who has never actually tried a case in court, to fill a vacancy in that state. The American Bar Association rated Talley  “not qualified”.  Remember that these are lifetime appointments.
  • Thankfully we can trust our religious and spiritual leaders to be morally and ethically consistent. But wait! In 2001 Rev. Jesse Jackson admitted to fathering a child out of wedlock and just last week was accused of recent sexual harassment. And remember when Rev. Ted Haggard, the fundamentalist minister who preached against homosexuality, admitted having sexual relations with a younger man? Or when Rev. Jimmy Swaggart was caught with a prostitute after accusing other ministers of sexual indiscretion? Or that miracle healer Peter Popoff, who knew intimate details about members of his audience because he was in touch with God, was actually getting that information via a receiver in his ear (his wife was telling him what to say). Remember Jim Bakker?

I could continue offering examples of such blatant hypocrisy using political, spiritual, and social leaders, but I feel certain you understand. The question is how do we respond to such hypocrisy?

Cambridge University historian and politics professor David Runciman  concludes that we should accept the fact that anyone we elect to office is a hypocrite. Politics cannot ever be completely sincere because those running for office have an agenda (to be elected) and will bend the truth and offer insincere ideas to garner votes. And we know they are not telling us the truth because their claims are so unbelievable. Runciman also considers lying a form of hypocrisy. He concludes that we just have to decide which hypocrite/liar we will elect because they are all hypocrites and liars. Our challenge, he says, is to distinguish between harmful and harmless hypocritical statements. His take on last year’s presidential election is quite interesting.

If we accept Runciman’s arguments we must do the same with all our leaders; decide which are the most harmful and which harmless. This notion flies in the face of my generally optimistic nature, but I’m not sure I can argue against it these days. Can you convince me otherwise?

Too Much Stuff Going on in My Head

There are just too many things going on in the world (and in my life) for me to focus on only one topic right now, so here are a few random observations.

  • In an earlier post I offered my views regarding gun control and the 2nd Amendment. The killings at the Baptist Church in Texas over the weekend were the 307th “mass shooting” (four or more shot at one time) in the United States this year. As of November 6, 2017, 13,203 Americans have been killed in gun incidents and 27,045 have been injured just this year. By comparison, even one of the most conservative anti-Islam websites could find only 19 Americans killed by “radical Muslim extremists” thus far in 2017. Still, Americans’ fear of terrorism is our second greatest concern (second only to corrupt government officials). So our chance of being killed by terrorists is almost zero while the liklihood of being killed by a fellow citizen with a gun in 2017 is almost 700 times greater, but we focus on terrorism rather than easy access to guns. Makes sense.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time”. It appears a large number of my fellow citizens do not satisfy this definition. In personal conversations I’ve had recently and in comments I’ve seen in the media, when the issue of Russia’s involvement in our elections and the possible collusion of Trump campaign officials is raised, one response is “well what about Hillary Clinton and the Uranium One deal in Russia”. These are not related events. One does not justify the other. If Clinton is guilty she (and any others involved) should be prosecuted. The same is true for any guilty Trump officials. I’ve actually had Americans tell me they don’t care if Russia impacted our presidential election. Yes…that is frightening.
  • The “me too” campaign has really shed light on sexual assault and harassment, and I’ve been bothered a great deal by the number of friends and family who typed “me too” as their Facebook statuses. By 2017 one would hope we were beyond the “boys will be boys” (or “men will be men”) excuse, but it appears some men still believe their authority and power give them the authority to grab, grope, demand sex, or otherwise assault women (or other men). And, by the way, I’ve also wanted to put “me too” in my own status but I didn’t want to explain and I also thought it might somehow cheapen women’s experiences.
  • A month ago the Las Vegas shooter killed about 60 and injured another 500 using a “bump stock” which allowed him to fire a lot of rounds in a short period of time. You have probably heard that the sales of “bump stocks” soared after the Las Vegas shooting. The manufacturer stopped selling them and Congress said it would begin hearings on the devices (a month later still no hearings and most gun dealers sold out). Now the manufacturer decided to release more bump stocks onto the market again. Yet another example of profits taking precedence over lives.
  • I’ve previously discussed America’s low opinion of President Trump. As it turns out Americans have a pretty low opinion of the Democratic and Republican parties as well. Support for the Democratic Party is at a twenty-five year low , with only 37% of Americans viewing that party favorably and 54% viewing it unfavorably. Only about 30% of Americans view the Republican Party favorably and 60% view it unfavorably. What America needs is a third party that offers common sense, non-ideological solutions to problems like unemployment, declining infrastructure, the drug crisis, the debt, and other similar problems.
  • Last week I was in Denver for a conference. It is a beautiful city with lots of great things going for it. However, I was struck by the number of homeless people on the city’s streets. I had the opportunity to interact with several of these folks and it became obvious that most of them were suffering from a serious mental illness. Earlier this year Scientific American reported that America’s mental health has declined in the last twenty years. Suicide rates are higher, opioid use has skyrocketed, and more Americans have been declared disabled because of mental illness. I don’t have a solution but I do know that I saw a bunch of folks in Denver (and see others here in Columbia) who do not have much of a life because of a mental illness.
  • OK. We need something happier. I’ve often said that most people are genuinely good, caring, loving, and kind and the number of jerks is very small. That sentiment was proven once again in Denver where I met fellow conferees, baristas (lots of those), people in restaurants, people on planes and trains, and people in airports. Everywhere I go I find very good people and find that they are the overwhelming majority.

That’s all I have for now. I do appreciate you reading!