This week marks the declared Texas Day of Civility in the Law, according to a joint proclamation by the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the two highest courts in Texas. This begs the question, do we need a day of civility? As if we’ve checked that one off for one day, the rest of the year is for incivility.  A recent study by the University of Chicago found that 74% of Americans believe that manners and behavior have deteriorated in the U.S. over the past several decades. Many believe that politicians should be held to a higher standard of civility than the general public.

The study finds that people generally agree as to what is unacceptable:

  • Use of cell phones in restaurants;
  • Swearing in public or online;
  • Remarks or jokes based on race, gender, or sexuality.

Some differences emerged in the study based on age. With technology, half of younger people believe it is acceptable and not rude to use a cell phone in a restaurant, while only 22% of older Americans agree. This same division is seen with issues of profanity or discussing sex in public.

Most Americans believe political campaigns are more rude than the average American. However, of the people surveyed, they reported that Republicans are more rude that Democrats.

So, we basically agree that there has been a decline in civility in our society and among our politicians. But, where does that come from? My take… the decline in civility in society reflects what we seen on television. (Or, some would say, television reflects society. Chicken? Egg?)

With the modern 24/7 news cycle and reporters on the constant watch for anything unusual to make a story out of, examples of incivility are often highlighted and maybe overstated. Let someone have a cross word in Washington and it becomes a major event, replayed on-the-hour, with pundits weighing in on all sides of the political/racial/gender spectrum to opine about who was right and who was wrong.

Also, reality television shows have heightened our focus on incivility. Think back to the first example that I can remember of incivility on television – The Jerry Springer Show. For the first time on modern, daytime tv, a show gained ratings because people acted badly. Fast forward that to today, with reality tv, a show has to have drama – incivility – to get ratings and attention. Then, when the dust settles they have a reunion show to replay all of the drama and incivility and rehash it all over again. Bloggers blog about the drama and entertainment shows gossip about it. Modern culture feeds off of incivility.

I mean, face it, civility is boring. Or, at least, it’s boring where tv ratings are concerned.

So, as society, if we all agree that we have become increasingly uncivil, and we none prefer for us to act that way, then what do we, as a society, do about it? What are your ideas – tell us in the comments.

 

Part 1 of 4 Civility in Law series.