Interesting editorial observation in my local paper this week. Leonard Pitts Jr., a columnist with the Miami Herald, wrote an opinion piece on the lack of civility in today’s society titled “Whatever happened to that quaint relic called civility?”
In this article, he wants to know where civility went. Well, having grown up in a middle class Catholic family of eight, during the sixties mind you, I have some answers for him.
First and foremost, when society deems one’s feeling of self-worth more important than following God’s Commandments, civility takes a beating.
I cannot tell you how many times our parents would admonish us not to argue, hit, shout, or be mean to one another because it was wrong, or in Catholic-speak, a sin. I do not think I ever heard my mother sweetly suggest “Honey, why don’t you stop doing that? You are not being very nice”. No, my mother would sternly state, “Stop that right now! Stay in your room until you can behave”. Big difference!
And, if my parents heard any of us making fun of someone else because of their appearances or because they sounded different, not only were we dragged away by our elbows and forced to stay inside the house, they would instantly remind us how people often abused and laughed at Jesus. By their words and actions our parents taught us to live as Jesus did, and to try to avoid doing anything that Jesus would frown upon. Not only would these types of acts make Him sad (read – Catholic guilt), we would need to keep track of it for our next visit to the confessional and Father Kenny (read – Catholic fear). Incentives abounded for us to act right.
Secondly, when society deems it unacceptable to talk about God and His Word in civil discourse, civility becomes a nicety, not a necessity. Communication is reduced to sound bites, slogans, shouts, and vulgarity.
Did we ever hear our father use vulgarity when we were young? Of course! We grew up knowing two languages existed… Dad’s language, usually reserved for the garage and workroom, although there were a “few” instances of his peppery language during long road trips, and then there was the “proper way” to talk. Were we allowed to use Dad’s language? Never, and if one of his words accidently slipped out, our parents did not think it was cute. Rather, dad’s language being used by one of us always resulted in the use of the ever handy Ivory Soap, which by the way does not taste very good.
In addition, our grandfather repeatedly told us the way to sound intelligent was to never use vulgarity. He firmly believed the use of vulgar words was a sign of illiteracy. We grew up knowing every vulgar word had at least ten acceptable synonyms; if we wanted to be perceived as being intelligent, we used these words. But, at some point in our society, vulgar and rude language became the norm; it is even seen as being funny! Children and teens hear their sports idols, their Hollywood idols, and their favorite musicians using this type of language in interviews, movies, and songs. These “American Idols” give tacit approval to our youth that this type of language is acceptable. And a Catholic parent’s job is made even more difficult.
Finally, when society no longer allows prayer to be said on school campuses, ridicules politicians who publicly state faith is the center of their being, and passively accepts bad behavior, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone”, civility is replaced with narcissism.
Civility, public and private, is the direct outcome of living by God’s Commandments. When these Commandments are no longer the center of the family, there can be no family. When God is no longer the center of one’s community, there is no real community. And when God and His Commandments are not the center of our country, public civility is lost.
For Catholic families the job is made more difficult by today’s lack of focus on God and His teachings. Mr. Pitts Jr. and all other public figures in the media, entertainment world, and political arena could make our job so much easier if they would once again begin to draw negative attention to those who abuse God’s Laws instead of making heroes out of them. Or, as the First Commandment commands:
“‘I am the LORD your God… You shall have no other gods before Me.‘
You want to know what happened to civility Mr. Pitts Jr.? I would advise you it is still out there. There are many families in America who still live by the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. These are not relics; they are our way of life. Furthermore, our country did not “lose” its civility; we threw it away in the name of entertainment, fame, and the desire to feel good about ourselves.
Maybe it is time those in positions that influence our youth remember and live by God’s Words once again. Maybe it is time for everyone to remember there is a difference between our “rights as Americans” and doing the “right” thing. Maybe it is time for all of us to stop, turn our eyes toward Heaven, and say in one voice “God help us, for we know not what we do”.
Copyright 2010 Carol S. Bannon