Civility, or the lack of it, has been in the news lately. There was the incredibly boorish gaff that Kanye West perpetrated on Taylor Swift at the MTV Music Awards. Then, the indecorous "You lie," hurled at President Obama by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, during the health care reform speech. Not to be outdone, the distaff side was represented by Serena Williams' outburst at a line judge at a tennis match.
So, despite some halfhearted and not so halfhearted apologies, did their conduct receive the disdain that it should have? Some would question that.
For example, rapper Jay-Z was quoted by NME News as having said, "He didn't kill anybody. No one got harmed." That isn't exactly true. Certainly, Kanye did not kill anyone, but someone was harmed — disrespect is harm. It is the basis for allowing a culture to descend into hate, crime, and depravity. The only way you can harm anyone in those ways is to first disrespect them. People generally don't perpetrate hostility, boorishness, or mayhem on those whom they respect.
Undoubtedly, Kanye knows he was wrong because he was reduced to silence when asked how he thought his mother would react to his outburst. And, that is the reason for this slightly editorial column this week, since it is the older reader who perhaps has not lost the memory of a more civil society, albeit one with some disparities and prejudices that we are now glad to be rid of. Disrespect comes in various forms, and isn't always blatant, after all.
Serena, in her tirade of curses against a judge was treated more harshly than Roger Federer, a male tennis player, who allegedly conducted himself the same way a bit later at the same tournament. So, are we still laboring under a double standard? Maybe, but neither gender should disrespect a judge publicly, and the fact that one was not censured doesn't make the other one right. (I can hear my mother now saying, "Two wrongs don't make a right.")
Even if you detest President Obama's politics, it is disrespectful of his office for someone to respond in such a manner as Rep. Wilson did on the floor of the Congress, especially since he should have been well aware that there are rules against such behavior there, unlike the general rowdiness that is accepted in the British Parliament, and to which some reporters have alluded with regard to this story. When asked to apologize on the floor where his lack of civility took place, he refused.
Does all this mean that we now just add congressmen to the list of celebrities and sports figures NOT suitable as role models for our children? Perhaps, but the one thing that has never changed is the need for someone to be a role model for them. That responsibility belongs to all of us. As a country, as a community, and as neighbors, parents and grandparents, we can either adopt the position of weakness that says we can't do anything about this country's descent into incivility, or we can stand up and act as we want others to act, and we can offer counsel to the young so that they understand that words hurt, and that the pen (and the mouth) really can be mightier than the sword.
Older people can still make a difference to the young in the way they conduct their everyday lives. A child who sees an adult, when given too much change, return the money to the store instead of keeping it, are more likely to return what isn't theirs to a rightful owner. But, the same child, who hears adults make disrespectful statements to others, is more likely to become someone who insults others.
We all need to think before we act, before the look of scorn comes over our faces, before we say the hurtful words. Whether we are someone's boss, parent, grandparent, teacher or neighbor, inappropriate words are heard by more than their intended recipients. The children are watching, and it is us they are watching. It's all about respect, and it all starts at home, in school, and in the community.
Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., your local Area Agency on Aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.