Are we losing our civility?

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Charles Qualls

The video that has criss-crossed our news broadcasts and social media is jarring to watch. Two young high school wrestlers are competing in a state-sanctioned match. One tries a maneuver on the other, but his efforts result in a rough landing for his opponent, which then draws a penalty. The two are setting up to resume the match when out of nowhere, a parent comes flying into the picture. He has left his rightful seat in the stands, and tackles the errant wrestler. His own child’s opponent. Now, a child has been assaulted by his opponent’s parent rather than letting the referee handle things.

Youth league baseball and softball organizations across our country report a shortage of willing coaches and umpires these days. Too many volunteers have horror stories of becoming the targets of misbehaving parents. Some adults have lost perspective and misbehaved so badly. This hardship is tough to justify when really they were just trying to help, so they quit.

Are we losing our civility? This becomes the question we eventually have to ask.

The person posts such ugly political content and opinion on their social media account. Knowing full well that they have friends and family who vote toward the other side of the figurative aisle. Do they think they are influencing anyone with all the vitriol? Do they think their insults are forgotten by their own loved ones?

Teachers and administrators sometimes feel they are living on islands, devoid of parental support when they have discipline to deal out or bad academic news to break to the student. We are losing gifted people from this profession. Pastors are left to fend for themselves as the mean-spirited church member speaks disrespectfully to them or pushes them around while others watch. We are losing gifted people from this profession.

Events of these past political weeks have brought crowds of analysts to television, radio and online platforms. Some of these analysts themselves once served in our nation’s highest elected offices. They speak of a bygone day when members interacted more healthfully with fellow members who sat across the political aisle from them. They cooperated, compromised and became friends in the process. Even in their disagreement, there was civility. They lament that there is noticeable division and rivalry today instead. Worst of all, there is distance now.

In our casual mood these days, other hallmarks of civility are fading. One recent article told of a family member being heckled while they voiced a eulogy during a funeral. Who heckles a grieving person during a funeral? Another officiant told the story of a fistfight that broke out during a wedding. We do not seem to know when to dress respectfully for an important occasion, much less how to behave.

If you have read this far, and are waiting for me to moralize or to offer some hope, here is where I am afraid I have to disappoint you. Because all I think I have to offer at this moment is another question. The question is, what is the breaking point? In other words, if the pendulum truly does tend to swing on these things in a society, when will it go ahead and do so?

I wait for community and fellowship to matter more than opinion. It rarely seems to these days. I wait for cohesion to matter more than individual wants. It rarely seems to these days. I wait for relationships to matter more than thinking oneself to be right. That doesn’t happen as often as I think it used to. I wait for corporate responsibility and citizenship to matter more than a marginally higher profit margin. That seems too much to ask.

I long for people to remember that individual rights should always end where they infringe on the greater good. I wish for mothers, fathers and friends to think before they say that thing which hurts their own beloved irreparably. I have a hankering for a healthier society that does more than say that it cares, and instead shows consistently that it truly does. I yearn for business people to remember the inextricable connection between treating their customers well and the level of their own income from that business.

Yes, I find myself wondering sometimes: Are we losing our civility? You and I seem to be the only ones whom we can control. Will we push for better? Will we be better? If so, when?

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.