What happened to civility?


As a child of Baby Boomer parents there are some things that were instilled in my brother, my sister and myself from a young age.  We opened the door for ladies or our elders, we didn’t wear a hat at the dinner table and we stood up to shake hands with someone.

At some point in the last couple of decades I feel like there has been a disconnect from the things that were just commonplace when my generation grew up.  It saddens me to see that today it is socially acceptable to dehumanize those we have a disagreement with and it’s perplexing.  Throughout the last 40 something years there have been a great many people who don’t share every single view that I do, but in many cases those differences have led to some pretty thought provoking (and civil) conversations.

Some examples that jump out at me:

Having met a gentleman who was not what we would describe as “pro-police”, an invitation was extended to come ride with an officer and see the situations they experience from a different perspective.  That ride-along led to a revised opinion.  Maybe he still wasn’t a police advocate, but he certainly gained a new appreciation for why police operated the way they do in certain situations.

I myself have had those same epiphanies when I was able to spend time on the inside of situations I thought I understood.  As a rookie officer I couldn’t completely grasp the dynamic of someone in a physically abusive relationship or why they would remain there. But when the opportunity came to work with those who champion domestic violence victims in the setting of a counselor, I truly gained a perspective that never would have exposed itself to the patrolman on the streets.

So it is today.  We listen on a daily basis to voices (often on social media) who only serve up pseudo expertise on subjects they actually know little about.  Their only tactic is to (attempt) to be the loudest voice in the room.  Their playbook is pretty shallow when it comes to options so quite often these self-appointed experts pursue a path that dictates being loud enough for long enough will equate to being right.

The value structure I grew up with tells me that this approach is and will always be, just plain wrong.  To watch anything from national news to local Facebook pages, you don’t have to look far to find someone, who with little or no facts to support a position, will hate everything.  In a day and age where the cumulative knowledge of mankind is as close as our smartphone, everyone has a platform to share an opinion.  Unfortunately everyone doesn’t have the capacity to discuss matters in a civil manner.  Civility just doesn’t seem to be a virtue anymore.   A saying that was taught to me as a young officer is one I have never forgotten; “Never argue with a fool, they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

The facts of the matter are this:  We are surrounded by incredible people who are doing incredible work to make our cities and county a better place to live and work.  I see them, (in a great many occupations) working 12 hours a day or more (on and off the clock) to complete projects that help all of us.  I see them set aside their law enforcement persona to listen and try to help someone trapped in a cycle of drug addiction get a fresh start.  I see them donating their time to help our kids who play sports or engage in other extra-curricular activities.  I see them helping our neighbors who have been stricken with debilitating health conditions.  I see them at bake sales and car washes and animal shelters.  I see them meet with our political leaders and share their real thirst to make a positive impact, not to just rant and make baseless accusations or personal attacks.

If you take anything away from this article today let it be this; despite what Facebook, Twitter and the 24-hour news cycle may lead you to believe, we live with GREAT people, in a GREAT part, of a GREAT state!

They say if you hold on to something long enough it eventually comes back into style.  My sincere hope is that as we continue to engage one another through the many mediums available to us, on the great many topics that affect us all…civility with our fellow man will become chic once again. It’s a quality that is attractive on everybody.

Eric Kaiser is the Chief of Police for the Jourdanton (TX) Police Department and a Master Texas Police Officer

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