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Our view: Return civility to everyday life

December 4, 2018

One of our favorite sports sayings comes from Vince Lombardi: When you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.

This simple request to conduct oneself with dignity, pride and restraint is applicable in so many ways and in so many places beyond the football field. Put another way: Be humble, respectful and magnanimous. Be civil to others.

This is true not just in the realm of sport. How about in the line at the fast food restaurant, or in the comments section of an online news story? Don’t dignity, restraint and civility have a place there too?

We wondered about that as the role of civility in politics took center stage during the recent election campaign. In our view, it’s not just politicians, their consultants and advertising directors who need to learn civility. It often seems as if our entire society has misplaced our collective manners.

We grant that efforts to impose civility are sometimes a way to silence marginalized populations that have no other way to voice their concerns or demonstrate their needs. But there is a huge difference between civil disobedience and in-your-face ugliness. We’ve seen way too much of the latter in recent times.

Where does it come from? You can hazard a guess along with us, but we’ll point fingers for starters at reality TV programs laced with self-serving anger, anonymous posts on social media, economic insecurity, mean-spirited political debates and I’m-bigger-than-the-team athletes.

All of those set an example for the rest of society to follow. Too many of us begin to believe that public expressions of hate and anger are not only acceptable, they’re expected.

Hate, anger, and fear are powerful drugs. We might ask ourselves why we, as individuals and a society, need those drugs.

Maybe it starts with the way we view ourselves: lack of self-respect, shortage of dignity, no sense of restraint, sore losers and ugly winners. If we act that way ourselves, it soon becomes part of the way we treat others.

It’s difficult to believe everyone wants to be like this, or wants to inhabit a society that acts this way. It’s not much fun, we suspect, even for those dishing out the abuse.

To solve it, individuals need to finally refuse to participate in the public or anonymous shaming of others. Treat yourself and others with respect and dignity. Although it has been a while, when we get back to that place of civility, it might feel like familiar turf. And we might be able to act, as Lombardi counseled, like we’ve been there before.

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