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You see and feel the scourge the same way I do. The basic etiquette and civil behavior we displayed toward each other in decades past have all but melted in the blast furnace of today's rudeness, anger and primitive self-absorption.

Like me, many of you were raised with manners. We males were taught by parents to treat females with dignity and respect and show those qualities through little actions such as opening doors, pulling out chairs or walking closest to the street as a symbol of protectiveness, not superiority.

We were directed in our early years to always say "thank you" when another helped us, and "please" when we needed it. Society in general was respectful of the other person. We realized we all are in this together for the duration of our relatively brief lifetimes. I also believe much of this "Golden Rule" way of living together was fostered in our churches and, to some degree, even in our school systems.

Regardless of the origins, things today in America are a far cry from the relatively recent past.

So where did our civility go? Why hasn't it improved rather than fading to almost nonexistent? Should we blame the breakdown of traditional families? Absentee fathers? Rampant drug use among today's youth? Social media? The media itself? A lack of effective mentors? A diminished public education system?

There has to be something to fault, right? After all, valued readers, isn't it popular today to blame everything and everyone but ourselves?

Maybe, just perhaps, we could gaze into our mirrors and ask why we are the way we are. Why don't we demonstrate the respect and kindness toward others that our grandparents and theirs did? How can a broken society benefit any of us?

Today, I see people shoving to get to the front of a line, loudly cursing in public and in front of children, seldom using courtesy titles for other men or women, men never pulling out chairs for ladies or opening doors. I also don't see youths treating their elders with the respect they deserve.

The condition has become so bad that even my daughter, Anna, in Memphis, a retired Navy chief, called the other night just to talk about how etiquette, civility and a sense of respect for each other has vanished. Even at 40 years old, this loss troubles her. And, like me, she has no effective answer for turning the toxic red tide of anger and disdain washing over us.

I'm not the only writer to take note of how poorly we treat each other today.

In an article in American Heritage titled "Have Our Manners Gone to Hell?" dated 17 years ago, John Strausbaugh spoke about good manners being "a commodity manufactured to meet the needs of an industrial age" long past. But today, he says, we might need them more than ever.

"All of us have encountered surly check-out cashiers, come up against uncivil civil servants, and witnessed rude public behavior. The couple behind us who talk through the entire movie. The stranger who lets the shop door slam in our face. The driver who steals our parking space. We often hear--and voice--the complaint that bad behavior is on the rise, that chivalry is dead. But are Americans really less polite than ever? Are manners in perpetual decline from some golden age of civility? Are there ... eternal and unchanging rules for proper behavior?"

While I concede this breakdown of rude behavior toward each other has noticeably intensified under Donald Trump, the downslide began well before Trump and seemed to intensify under eight years of an equally polarizing Obama regime.

An article by Michael Woodward on Psychology Today titled "Trump and the Death of Civility in America," published before the 2016 election, places a lot of blame on Trump for his often crass language and needlessly personal public attacks, as well as his often uncivil behavior.

Woodward wrote that the fifth annual "Civility in America" survey showed over 90 percent of Americans believe lack of civility is a problem, almost two-thirds placing it at crisis level. Moreover, when it comes to the nation's 83 million millennials, 74 percent believe the Internet encourages uncivil behavior, while 50 percent see politicians as the primary drivers of incivility. "Unfortunately," Woodward writes, "the trends captured in this survey have continued in the wrong direction."

The Institute for Civility in Government, he said, "defines civility as 'claiming and caring for one's identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else's in the process.' Essentially it's being able to disagree with someone without disrespecting that person. This is the foundation of healthy dialogue."

There's little doubt that what those we elect to lead us do and say can't help but set a tone for much of the nation.

But I believe the incivility and loss of etiquette to the widespread and unprecedented epidemic of rudeness and selfishness permeating our country today has more to do with the failure of previous generations to instill and pass along the ability to treat other the same way they want to be treated--with respect and empathy.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 09/04/2018

Print Headline: Spiraling down

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