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Will we ever see a return to civility?

Thoughts from Behind the Pressline

Has today’s society lost all concern for civility? The conversation and questions have been growing louder over the past few decades, and there appears to be no real concern to improve the tone or tenor for the lack of respect in the ways in which we deal with each other, especially when we disagree.

It should be very apparent that our inability to deal with a broad range of problems is largely attributable to the destructive ways in which the issues are being addressed. A few week ago I was shocked to read an editorial in our papers, penned by one of our editors, who, instead of offering constructive commentary on comments made by individuals, resorted to using a broad brush to paint many with the comments of a few. He truly didn’t mean to do so and has issued a formal apology, but was so enraged by the comments of the few that it seemed a simple step to assume everyone of similar association must think and act like the persons who made the comments, even though the statements have been far and widely condemned by nearly all. Despite the condemnation, once comments like those are in the public arena they continue to circulate.

None of us are immune from putting our foot in our mouth. Some of the smartest people around can be caught making an inappropriate comment from time to time—sometimes taken out of context or requiring further explanation— but sometimes they just speak without thinking it all the way through. The problem isn’t always the comment, but how the comment is blown out of proportion. It takes on a life of its own, and, using a current term, goes viral.

Civility is more than just mere politeness. Civility doesn’t mean a lack of confrontation or questioning on important issues, and it certainly shouldn’t be an excuse for any statements made publicly by an official or citizen. But neither should the lack of civility be allowed to become the destructive force it is growing to be in our society.

Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at dan@denpubs.com.

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