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Keep It Civil

Most of us wouldn't dream of assaulting a flight attendant no matter how long the delay or how bad the food. But, sadly, increasing numbers of air travelers are venting their frustrations, short tempers, or self-importance in verbal attacks, or even actual physical assaults on airline staff.

Beyond the obvious safety issues raised by this behavior, it's yet another alarm - and a particularly jarring one - that civility is under siege in contemporary society.

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True, no one, including the airline industry, keeps rigorous civility statistics. And we're pretty sure that if such numbers were compiled they'd show the vast majority of people still know how to say "thanks" and "please," and exercise patience and courtesy. But most people have no shortage of anecdotal evidence of a decline in manners, evidence gathered at checkout counters, ticket lines, on the road, or in restaurants.

The perception reigns that all too many of our fellow citizens seem to have forgotten that a touch of kindness and respect not only makes family, social, and work life tolerable but also pays dividends. The person who learns the rules of courtesy is on the road to accomplishment. That used to be part of the American code - dating all the way back to the "110 rules of civility and good behaviour" George Washington had to learn as a boy.

Are such rules a hopelessly antique notion in a world of frantic communication, "R" rated everything, and win-at-all-costs competition?

Not if the breadth of current efforts to revive civility is any measure. Educators are pondering ways to make character training part of the curriculum in public schools, institutions that have historically been seen as prime civilizing influences. Politicians are adding the weight of their rhetoric, and sometimes their examples. Campaigns to boost volunteerism and public service are calls to civility in the sense that they demand attention to the needs and feelings of others.

And along with an emphasis on decent behavior has to come a readiness to recognize and reject bad behavior. When the unruly passenger realizes that neither the airline nor other travelers will tolerate an outburst, incivility will have less room to take flight.

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