The Downfall of Civility

One of the sadly disappointing aspects of late has been the downfall of civility. While I do believe that most people are mostly good, there has been a marked increase in mean-spirited rants and cruelty to our fellow human beings. Blame social media if you wish; like any Pandora’s box, there is good, but with it came hateful, cruel trolls who hide behind anonymous names and their screens. But as of late, the lack of civility has come out face-to-face in the public square.

Today, the husband was driving in Alpine when a construction worker from a company working on adding sidewalks inadvertently hit the husband’s truck with an extension ladder of which he lost control. The only damage was to the passenger side mirror on his truck. Nothing else, and nobody hurt, so a very minor glitch in the scheme of things. He parked and talked to the man, who was very apologetic and kind. The worker (Man #1) couldn’t have been more polite, took him to his immediate supervisor (Man #2). The second man was also very professional and courteous, as the husband said he just wanted to get insurance information to have his mirror replaced. Man #2 said he needed to go see the supervisor, Gus (Man #3), who was in his truck further away. When the husband went there with pen and paper in hand to get that information and inform Man #3 about what had transpired (because Man #3 had not seen the incident at all since he was away from the scene), Man #3 immediately started cursing at him. He screamed “I’m not paying, you’re paying, you tried to kill one of my guys. Fuck you!” Man #3 did not ask what had happen, let alone talk to Man #1 or Man #2 who would have corroborated the husband’s take on things, but just went off on the husband. Man #3 whipped out his cell phone and said “smile, I’m taking your picture and I’m going after you.”

Now you have to understand that the husband is not the kind of guy who encourages confrontations in any way. He’s mellow and reasonable. He is polite. He holds the doors for older people at stores and banks. He says “ma’am and sir” to elders and is often asked if he is from the South because he is more polite than most Californians. He was shocked and taken aback by this reaction. He ended up going back to Man #2 who gave him the insurance info, the name of a contact at the company to call, and Man #2 was more than happy to give him Man #3’s name: Gus. From my many years of experience working for a living, I know that someone who would treat an outside person like that has probably been a total dick to his co-workers, especially those in a subordinate position.

This comes after so many stories I’ve heard of hateful conduct. Many in the media based on marginalized groups in our nation who have been threatened, and it’s happening daily at my school. But the husband is not in a marginalized group. He’s mostly white (a large percentage, but not totally), heterosexual, and does not advocate any religious affiliation. A woman from my childhood neighborhood recently had an encounter at a market in which she was there with her service dog and a man came up to her and said, out of the blue “Fuck you and fuck your dog.” Again, she is not from any marginalized group. So there you go – it’s happening everywhere regardless of who you are.

Now, I may sound like a really old person when I say that “back in my day, you’d never, EVER hear of anything like this.” But it’s true. People would never have behaved in public like that. Certainly in any job I had in the past, any person who behaved like Man #3 would have been fired immediately. And any man who behaved toward my childhood neighbor would have been escorted out of the store with the authorities called.

For the record, I am NOT someone who is nostalgic for the good old days. There was plenty of bad in those days, and I believe in progress and relish the strides we have made in our society. But this lack of civility is killing me. I believe in my heart that a tide will turn, but I don’t have any answers on how to conquer hatred and just plain rudeness. Any thoughts you have, I’m all ears.

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