From Contempt to Civility
America is transitioning from a society in which economic, educational and political opportunities were primarily for those of European descent, to a nation where most of its members now have access to those opportunities. Mainstream America now encompasses those of many diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Exposure to each other inevitably creates more friction, especially initially, and it is this friction and resentments, past and present, that are driving us to treat each other with contempt. The next few decades will determine whether we shall become further estranged and more disrespectful of each other or finally become a nation of civility for all members in which people can pursue their individual desires while allowing the same for other members of the community.
There are few countries where so many have gained so much in such a short time through non-violent movements. Now the biggest challenge confronting us is how to recreate our society so we can live together amiably. Social changes of this magnitude have seldom improved the lives of all members of the society. Those who initiate the changes often use the very behavior they fought against as reciprocation for former offenses. Gandhi’s biggest disappointment, after liberating India from English rule through many years of peaceful struggle, was that the Indian people resorted to killing each other because of religious differences and previous transgressions. The French revolution to rid the country of a self-serving and brutal aristocracy, created an egocentric and violent bourgeoisie. The Russians replaced the cruel and decadent Czarist regime with a murderous, corrupt communist system. South America has suffered many oppressive dictators as outcomes of their insurgencies. Even our own revolution allowed the continuation of slavery in order to sustain the economic appetite of the South. If we are to have a different outcome in our time we need to make different choices.
Civility encourages the tolerance on which a good society is built. A broad-minded community nurtures creativity, innovation, entrepreneurism and self-reliance; it allows its members to communicate and interact productively to resolve day to day issues effectively and negotiate mutually beneficial solutions to bigger challenges. Consideration enhances human relations in these situations while contempt and anger worsens them. It is advantageous to all the citizens of this country that we treat each other with respect even though discourtesy may seem appropriate recompense for past and current disagreeable behaviors. In the end it will be our ability to get along that will determine the quality of life for our own and future generations.
– D. Stover