The taunting and bullying of a 68 year-old grandmother, Karen Klein, by Greece, NY, middle school students has once again opened the eyes of the country to the lack of civility in our society.
Sure, they’ve offered empty apologies and token gestures because they are embarrassed and hope and/or believe that by saying “I’m sorry” legal action will not be taken against them. But what do their actions say about us as a society? What does it say about the parents of these students?
“The truth is it all begins at home. Yes, society is partially to blame. But, more than anything, it’s all about what’s going on at home. It’s the way parents raise their kids and teach them about respect,” one poster wrote on the Today Show website.
In a report on the Today Show about the incident, Child and Family Psychologist Jennifer Hartstein said what is needed is a “kindness curriculum.” What is needed is a civility curriculum and not just for children but parents as well.
Technology has become a doubled edged sword for our society. We have become desensitized by cell phones, television, the computer, Internet and other forms of today’s modern technology. We no longer speak to people; we “text” or “email.” We no longer socially interact and meet and greet people; we “friend” them on superficial mediums like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace. With these mediums we don’t have to be kind or civil. We’ve become cowards who hide behind “usernames” and “ handles.” The result: millions watch in anger and horror as 12, 13 and 14 year olds verbally and physically assault a senior citizen for no apparent reason other than just to be mean and vicious or because they can.
According to a March 1, 2012, article in AARP Magazine by Sara Hacala, a certified etiquette and protocol consultant, “the societal and financial costs of incivility are astronomical — impacting our homes and relationships, schools, economy, health care and government.” The article also alludes to a report that concluded that bad behavior may be the “new normal”
The behavior of these students clearly reveals a breakdown in family values. With the breakdown in family values and the emergence of the “me” first mentality the need for civility is greater now than ever before.
“It is becoming apparent that with the dominance of the new technologies in the development and socialization of citizens in our material oriented culture that progressive expansion of citizens for social responsibility and civic participation is being left to chance. Civility training throughout communities on a grand scale is needed as a counteracting power to bad habits of mind and behavior,” says Dr. Lewis King, the Scholar-in-Residence of the Tom & Ethel Bradley Foundation, who is recognized by his peers as one of the world’s greatest minds capable of translating thought into social action.“The action of civility must be intentional. If we are to preserve that which is fundamentally human, we must intentionally engage in conscious and deliberate action to teach and inculcate social responsibility into people at all ages and levels in society.”
Reversing the current course of incivility must become a top priority in our society. If we do not begin to develop programming in schools, government and the workplace that focus on civility, then rudeness, impoliteness, discourtesy, and disrespect will become the norm, throwing mankind back to the time it walked on all fours.