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An Era of Incivility

We are beset rudeness and aggression in the media, politics and in daily life.

We appear to be living in an era of incivility. There is constant spewing of aggressive comments and derogatory insults on radio and television, in political campaigns, in business and athletics, and certainly in the trolling blogosphere. Equally troubling, we often witness rudeness in our everyday lives, in the streets and stores, and even in many homes.

All of this nastiness serves as a model of behavior for impressionable children, with the inherent danger that it will become the ‘acceptable’ manner of public and private discourse.

Disrespectful and angry comments produce an unpleasant cacophony, a background “noise” in our consciousness, which grates on our moods and disturbs our social atmosphere. Expressions of animus induce anxiety in their targets and engender unease in others.

The current public face of incivility, bombast and bullying is Donald Trump, whose stock in trade appears to be narcissism and attacks on others. Of course there are others who share these traits, which appeal to the darker parts of people’s natures.

Many people are drawn to demagoguery, braggadocio and belligerence, They assume that braggarts and bullies make good leaders, mistaking pompous assertions for substantive solutions, and rants of hate for meaningful policies.

Civility facilitates humanity: It refers to politeness, respect, empathy, cooperation, tolerance and compassion. Communities which value civility are more successful in terms of personal happiness of citizens, as well as in providing better education, health and cultural services.

When civility is threatened by fear and hate mongering, positive attitudes and behaviors are supplanted by unhappiness, aggression and animosity. These are spread by “social contagion,” resulting in increased unrest within individuals (anxiety, depression, anger) and heightened conflicts between people (anger, animosity, aggression).

People affect each other: When we act with kindness and civility, that same process of social contagion enables us to contribute to a sense of well being in others. Groups and communities—families, friends, schools, companies, hospitals, teams and towns—in which are supportive and have positive interpersonal vibes are much more likely to thrive. This benefits everybody: Individuals, relationships and society as a whole.

We need to pay as much attention to increasing our ‘positive emotional footprint’ (civility, benevolence, empathy) and reducing our negative emotional footprint (antagonism, aggression, violence), as we are now doing to reducing our carbon footprint.

Unfortunately, we already have the knowledge and means to devolve as a species and eventually annihilate each other. But human beings and societies could greatly lessen the prevalent incivility, rancor and fighting

That same intelligence and creativity we are so fortunate to possess can elevate our more noble traits to become our primary personal and social goals. We have important choices to make as to whether or not we survive and thrive as a species.

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